How To ‘Do’ Sustainability


Over the years, CSR Asia has delivered hundreds of training sessions, workshops and events, many at board level. One of the most frequently asked questions from board directors is ‘how to do sustainability?’. In other words, ‘where do we start?’.

Here are some simple pointers.

What’s the most important part when starting to “do” sustainability?

Buy-in from the top is at the heart of “doing” sustainability. It cannot be embedded into business without explicit endorsement and support from the Board and the CEO.

We often see the communications or corporate affair department driving sustainability. This is no bad thing, but it is harder as time and perseverance is needed to communicate up to top management.

What would be some first steps? 

  • Secure buy-in from the Board and management
  • Consult with internal stakeholders to identify concerns
  • Engage with external stakeholders to understand expectations
  • Prioritise by bringing management together to present findings and identify material issues
  • Develop a strategy to prioritise key areas with targets and key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Report on progress, to solicit additional feedback, monitor your performance and achieve recognition for your efforts

Then what?

  • Begin with the basics. Ensure that you have core policies are in place. This would cover e.g. environmental, anti bribery/anti-corruption, health and safety, and equal opportunity policies.
  • Are these policies only on paper? Do you have a programme in place?  Do you have budgets in place to cover the cost for putting a programme in place?
  • Do you track performance of various material issues? As the saying goes, “What you cannot measure, you cannot manage. What you cannot manage you cannot change”. A general good practice is to have sustainability matters reported quarterly to the Board to ensure KPIs are kept on track.
  • Learn from others. Participate in business networks and events on sustainability. Build partnerships with not-profit or governmental organisations. This helps to ensure that you do not re-invent the wheel, but leverage to experiences of others.

Whose responsibility is it?

Ultimately, it is everyone’s responsibility. Companies with mature sustainability processes have sustainability departments to drive continuous improvement, but sustainability is part of everyone’s KPIs and scorecards. Many have sustainability tied into governance structures, for example, though a sustainability committee chaired by a senior director or manager who reports to the board.

What’s the toughest part of “doing” sustainability?

Top management may have signed off but there is need for buy-in from department managers. This is especially difficult when the company is just embarking on sustainability where this is seen as additional work rather than an opportunity to improve. On-going engagement, support and training is important in the early stages to help get more buy in.


The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.


Photo credits:

Wind mill – Flickr user Todd Klassy

Sapling in hand – Flickr user Nojoud Alhomoud

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