We are moving into a new era of corporate accountability. LRQA’s CEO, Ian Spaulding, argues that as sustainability reporting becomes a regulatory mandate, corporate officers must lead the charge within their organizations. COP28, taking place in December 2023 in Dubai, will be the end of the first five-year global assessment of progress toward the Paris Climate Agreement. It is likely that the spotlight will lead employees, investors and other stakeholders to question what progress has been made toward corporate carbon-reduction initiatives to address the climate crisis, too.
Underlying this, stringent laws with novel reporting measures, like Europe’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), are coming into place in 2024, with a focus on the social as well as the environmental impact of businesses.
For companies not already doing so, it’s time to align intentions with actions and to start demonstrating meaningful progress. This requires strong leadership and a robust management system framework to implement sustainable operations and to measure their impact on people and the planet.
Having recently launched Our Planet Our Plan, a new seven-year global sustainability strategy for LRQA, here are some key insights for other corporate leaders embarking on this journey:
Create a culture of sustainability
A strategy devised with input from all your stakeholders can provide a sense of ownership and accountability. Our Planet Our Plan is designed, directed and governed by a diverse group who fully represent those affected by LRQA’s work, including colleagues, clients, suppliers, community and environmental organizations. This motivates our colleagues to consider sustainability in all their actions.
With targets for Scope 3 impacts to consider, we also need to find ways to embed a sustainable culture in our extended supply chains. Again, we can demonstrate leadership by endorsing a code of conduct with issues like carbon reduction or ethical performance and encouraging due diligence through adherence to certified standards.
Understand international legislation
In recent years, there has been a shift in ESG policies from being a voluntary agenda to a mandatory one, thanks largely to stringent new compliance frameworks set by international bodies. Some examples of these are the incoming CSRD in Europe or India’s “Proposal for ESG Disclosures, Ratings, and Investing,” which will both impact global companies with operations in those regions.
Set specific, realistic goals
It is important for leaders to distinguish between short- and long-term goals and give equal focus to both. While long-term goals are indicative of your ultimate vision, achievable, short-term goals serve as manageable checkpoints.
Understanding the links between your value proposition and sustainability will mean that achieving these goals becomes seen as a contributor to business success, rather than an impediment to it. As well as science-based targets that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there is an opportunity to set goals for improving performance, addressing risk and furthering diversity and inclusion objectives.
Measure and communicate progress
Any sustainability strategy requires accurate metrics to track performance over time. Multitudes of data need to be collected across your business operations for this, so having mechanisms in place to enable this data collection and analysis is vital for success. A systems-based approach is crucial.
Our Planet Our Plan sets out seven clear aims based on the UN’s sustainable development goals, which are measured against data sets to track their progress and manage expectations, both internally and externally. Transparent reporting builds trust and demonstrates your commitment to driving change while providing opportunities to celebrate progress.
Acknowledge mistakes and demonstrate improvement
Be honest and accountable. Evaluate your company’s and employees’ performance based on their commitments to sustainability and responsible governance, and acknowledge when they aren’t aligned with one another. This allows you to re-evaluate your actions, find faults, implement effective initiatives and demonstrate tangible improvement, all of which lead to improved business performance, as well as greater transparency and accountability.
Transparency is becoming the most important aspect of any sustainability strategy. There has been a decline in trust in the private sector in recent years, thanks in part to reports of corporate greenwashing. Third-party data verification is key to building stakeholder trust and proving that you are measuring progress truthfully.
Our Planet Our Plan sets out an example for this via a public, data-led dashboard that holds LRQA accountable to the targets we have set. All of the key performance indicators are externally verified, adding to the robustness of reporting.
The road to sustainability
Embarking on this journey is not only about corporate responsibility and making a positive impact on the world but also about future-proofing your organization against risk, building trust and creating a better business.
We believe that Our Planet Our Plan embodies this. Its aim is not just to be a catalyst for building a company where people feel they belong and a place where they feel proud to work, but we hope that it inspires others to do the same.
While the road to sustainability isn’t easy, we believe it is achievable. It falls on us, as leaders, to make sure that it is.
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