Strategy: the basics

Writing your sustainability strategy should be something that is integrated into your overall business strategy and not a side show to your existing plan. 

How your sustainability strategy fits into your business

The real business benefit of running a greener business lies in integrating sustainability into your company strategy. This sustainability strategy will drive change across your business. 

It will show your clients and customers that you are serious about protecting both people and the planet as well as making a profit, demonstrating that you are a company with purpose.

Sustainability is unique to your business

There is no off the shelf or one size fits all approach. Tailor your sustainability strategy to fit your business, your market and your people.

ESG – Environmental, Social & Governance

These are the pillars in ESG frameworks and represent the 3 main topic areas that companies are expected to report in. The goal of ESG is to capture all the non-financial risks and opportunities inherent to a company’s day to day activities. The ESG framework was developed for evaluating the sustainability related disclosure of listed companies for investors. However today is thought of more as a reporting framework. With more companies looking for ESG information for their business, the ESG framework has become synonymous with reporting. There is no standard ESG framework but a broad consensus on the issues covered by it. More information on ESG can be found in this Deloitte article.

People, Planet, Profit or The Triple Bottom Line

The bottom line of a business refers to its profitability but this is only one measure of a company’s output.

The phrase “the triple bottom line” was first coined in 1994 by John Elkington, the founder of a British consultancy called SustainAbility. His argument was that companies should be preparing three different (and quite separate) bottom lines. 

  • One is the traditional measure of corporate profit—the “bottom line” of the profit and loss account. 
  • The second is the bottom line of a company’s “people account”—a measure in some shape or form of how socially responsible an organisation has been throughout its operations. 
  • The third is the bottom line of the company’s “planet” account—a measure of how environmentally responsible it has been. 

The triple bottom line (TBL) thus consists of three Ps: profit, people and planet. It aims to measure the financial, social and environmental performance of the corporation over a period of time. Only a company that produces a TBL is taking account of the full cost involved in doing business. The Economist 2009

This graphic shows the triple bottom line with people at the top. Without people, whether they are clients, customers, colleagues, suppliers or investors, you have no business.
Sustainability is defined in 3 ways.

  1. Equity in the people part
  2. Viability in the profit part
  3. Bearable in the planet part

Sustainability is the overlapping core

Sustainability Standards

There are many different standards in existence but no internationally legal standard. The EU is working on a Sustainability Standard but until that is in place it is a bit like the wild west. But these are some of the more recognised sustainability standards or frameworks: the UN SDGs, B Corporation, Global Reporting Initiative, Science based targets. Check what is relevant to your business.

There are many sustainability standards, certification and frameworks out there.  For standards particular to your industry check out the International Trade Centre Standards Map

Net Zero or Carbon Neutral as part of your strategy

Net Zero is a state where we add no incremental greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. This means emissions output is balanced with removal (or sequestration) of carbon from the atmosphere via carbon sinks (e.g forests, mangroves, carbon capture and storage, etc). Perhaps the most important part of net-zero, however, is that it requires significant emissions reductions. 

Carbon Neutral means that any CO2 released into the atmosphere from a company’s activities is balanced by an equivalent amount being removed. Companies can achieve carbon neutrality by buying carbon credits to offset their emissions. 
Click here for A non-misleading guide to carbon-neutrality from planA.