Why sustainability needs to take top priority in business

In recent years ESG initiatives have been creeping up the list of priorities, but the pace of change is not happening quickly enough which could have a damaging impact on profit and staff retention

When the idea of ESG first surfaced nearly two decades ago in a 2005 United Nations report, it was just another new acronym that businesses were trying to comprehend.

But in the last few years environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies have gathered steam and become integral to C-Suite strategy and business purpose as well as a deal-breaker for investors and new talent. In fact, a recent report revealed that jobseekers are turning down job offers by companies showcasing weak ESG credentials.

‘Jobseekers are turning down job offers by companies showcasing weak ESG credentials…’

Most of the larger conglomerates have set targets to reach net-zero by a set date – ranging from as early as 2025 to as late as 2050. But are these policies going far enough for stakeholders, future talent and society in general?

As a way of getting started, several organisations are focused on making incremental changes, including reassessing how the buildings they own are disposing of waste and consuming water. Phrases such as, ‘it’s a step in the right direction’ or ‘it’s better than nothing’ are often shared in the absence of an overarching strategy.

However, this is increasingly wearing thin and as organisations navigate post-pandemic ways of working, it is the perfect moment to integrate ESG into the heart of their culture, treating ESG targets as equally important as commercial targets.

Post-pandemic shake-up of priorities

The last two years have given many working professionals the time to re-think their working lives. And, as a result, nearly 50 per cent of people suggest that they want to be part of an organisation that promotes a ‘sense of purpose’.

Before the pandemic, a lot of the focus on achieving ESG goals was centred around the office – all largely achieved by putting measures in place to reduce carbon emissions or energy footprint. There was far less emphasis on cultivating sustainable workstyles or promoting sustainable ways of working. But the pandemic has brought this to the forefront of people’s minds.

Environmental actions, especially those centred around the physical office, remain important but with people splitting time between the office and their homes, business leaders have a much bigger role to play in educating, empowering and enabling their staff to behave sustainably, wherever they are working from.

‘Business leaders have a much bigger role to play in educating, empowering and enabling their staff to behave sustainably…’

As businesses navigate their ESG plans, leaders have an instrumental role to play in ensuring that measures being taken towards improving sustainability are communicated to all staff, celebrated and aligned to overarching goals.

The key to ensuring employee involvement and enthusiasm is to not get bogged down in the technicalities, but to appreciate their valuable contributions and communicate using relatable language.

Identifying obstacles, measuring impact

Despite many businesses having an ESG strategy, they often struggle to demonstrate their efforts and measure the impact for key stakeholders. Reporting has always fallen in the lap of real estate teams, but not all companies have such dedicated resources to draw on.

Alongside setting ESG goals, companies will also need to consider upskilling their existing teams to collect and analyse this important data while complying with constantly evolving legislations. This is important not just from an ‘evaluation’ standpoint but also promotes transparency.

Building a sustainable business is a lot of work. It requires significant investment and resources and will need to be prioritised as the business grows. Ultimately, it is what will define people’s tenures in leadership roles and the work of organisations will be measured against the commitment to ESG and positive impact on the environment that they can demonstrate.

Siobhan Byrnes is the Regional Director of EMEA at MovePlan. MovePlan supports businesses at a time of change. As we navigate the new normal, MovePlan can help you master change and create your workplace of choice. To discuss how MovePlan can help you, contact the team here. Moveplan is a Corporate Member of WORKTECH Academy  
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