Is Sustainability Still Just a Corporate Aspiration?

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For too many corporations, sustainability is simply an aspiration, or is it just a high-level strategy, or “green spinning”?

In an article surfaced by our AI-powered our Radical Influence Network (RIN) news feed, Sustainability is Far More Than a Corporate Aspiration, the author, Harry Broadman, takes the position that real sustainability “entails undertaking operational decisions that lie at the core of a business’s day-to-day functions” and is a multi-dimensional endeavor that includes the entire supply chain as well as usage of the products and services the company offers.

While Harry is particularly focused on ESG, the implications address any other strategic issue under consideration in a modern corporation.

Clearly, if the subject is treated too lightly, progress will be minimal. But what about creating a position of Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO), or creating a Sustainability Committee of the Board? Are these efforts any more successful?

Harry observes that in general “the systematic integration of sustainability” into the business “remains in its infancy”.  If sustainability remains internalized as an aspiration, and not a “core C-suite operational and strategic function” progress will be incremental at best. Harry is much more direct. He calls it “lip-service”.

Where do influence functions such as ESG, CSR, external affairs, and communications play in this unfortunate mess? They are called to make change, but in the face of resistance or indifference, and without senior-level support, they can easily be ignored.

You could say that a company’s issue and risk management processes are flawed when the realistic requirement of operationalizing sustainability has not sunken into the leadership team. Issue Management is a core strategic process that must involve leaders and is considered by RIN as a core pillar of achieving radical influence.

The best bet is to cite high-level objectives, and work to develop tangible operational-level performance goals that support them. Take the high-level statements, however aspirational, and turn them into specific interim steps of progress, and report on the progress, or lack thereof. Your job is to make tangible progress against the top-line goals that the Board and CSO have approved.

These aspirational statements are the fulcrum that can give you organizational leverage, so use them to the fullest. Otherwise, you will be ‘pushing up a rope.’

Influence functions have the expertise, the data, and the relationships that can make the difference between aspiration and results.

Taking the lead and fully embracing the assigned responsibilities of your influence function will help navigate the uncertainty, and close the gap.

If the influence function has good internal working relationships with business leaders and can act as a strategic advisor that tailors its counsel to fit each unique business, it will be able to exert influence without authority and drive progress. That is why Business Partnership, the ability to relate to and advise different parts of the business, is considered by RIN as another pillar to reaching radical levels of influence.

It is the ability to engage with leaders using subject-matter-based internal influence that allows the company overall to exert appropriate engagement and external influence.

Harry says that “If sustainability is relegated to an aspiration by C-suites, boards, and investors rather than an integrated operational mandate, then they do not understand what is in the best long-term interest of their companies.”

It is the job of the influence functions to help executives connect their aspirations to the operational mandates that are required across the organization. Influence functions can architect optional paths from idea to action, advise on selecting the best ones, help bring initiatives to life, provide expertise as needed, and objectively monitor progress. Influence functions can be the bridge between aspiration and tangible results.

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