Focusing on wasteful processes, better partnerships and executive buy-in are all easy ways to improve a sustainability mission, members of Protocol's Braintrust say.
Good afternoon! In today's edition, we asked a group of experts about the easiest things companies can do to improve on their sustainability goals. Questions or comments? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chief sustainability officer at Sustain.Life
While formally integrated ESG programs are complex, requiring thorough stakeholder engagement and materiality assessments, followed by deep investments in operational and cultural transitions across corporate functions, there are several more manageable steps a company can take to improve sustainability in a meaningful way.
- Get people involved. If you’re just starting out, one of the best ways to gather varied perspectives to inform the priorities, processes and goals of a program is to form a green team with representatives across disciplines. This also facilitates wider participation and employee buy-in, activating across corporate functions and ensuring all teams have a voice, which can go a surprisingly long way in generating support for a longer-term, more integrated effort.
- Measure. Resting on the age-old adage “what get’s measured get’s managed,” start collecting data to inform your progress. Whether it’s your electricity consumption, waste generation, carbon emissions or even the number of sustainability policies, anchoring your program in measurement conveys rigor.
- Purchase renewable energy certificates. To provide a more tactical step, purchasing RECs is a powerful step you can take to decarbonize your business operation, although it’s not without its challenges. Any company that purchases their electricity directly can do this independently, whereas those in multitenanted submetered buildings may need their landlord to purchase RECs on their behalf. This has a dual impact of decarbonizing your own electricity supply and supporting renewable infrastructure, while your company works to decrease consumption and improve efficiency across its operation.
President of sustainability business at Schneider Electric
Depending on where an organization is on its sustainability journey, there are several practical actions a company can take to improve sustainability efforts.
For companies that are getting started on their sustainability journey, taking a baseline of their carbon footprint and understanding opportunities is key. With this insight, organizations can set science-based targets and deploy decarbonization action plans to close the gap between ambition and action.
For companies that already have sustainability commitments, engaging the right partners and continually exploring sustainability and renewable energy opportunities will enable them to achieve goals. Adapting to market trends and being willing to accelerate or increase adoption of available technologies can also give companies a strategic advantage.
With the current hyper volatility in energy markets, we are seeing many clients turn to electrification of processes to reduce dependance on natural gas and fossil fuels. For example, by electrifying heat production and using existing technology to develop new decarbonized heating processes, some organizations are addressing a large portion of their Scope 1 emissions. By continually re-evaluating the decarbonization action plan, and being agile, many clients are accelerating their path to net zero.
For companies that are considered sustainability leaders, they have an opportunity to influence the creation of technologies that do not yet exist or accelerate adoption in markets that are still emerging.
Regardless of where an organization is on its sustainability journey, taking action using strategies and technology available today will enable it to reduce its carbon footprint and gain strategic advantage.
Co-CEO and co-founder at Celonis
Businesses suffer from process inefficiencies they can’t see, and which have a severe impact on the top line, bottom line and also green line. Therefore, revealing and fixing them is the easiest way to improve sustainability.
Processes are the arteries of any enterprise. However, the average company runs its processes over hundreds of systems and has little insight into how processes work together. Complexity builds up over time, incubating hidden inefficiencies across processes, people and technology. For instance, 25% of all shipping containers are shipped empty every single year; 10% of food is wasted before it even hits the table — 50 billion pounds per year in the U.S. alone.
These inefficiencies hurt businesses and the planet.
Processes that fuel companies’ top and bottom lines are the single most powerful way to operationalize sustainability strategy and drive impact at scale. Inefficiencies with a bottom-line impact often have a green-line impact, too.
Efficiency improvements are the fastest and easiest way to take action, as companies can reduce waste and emissions by leveraging existing technologies to improve business processes.
Areas where process improvements can make a significant impact on sustainability targets include identifying sustainable suppliers in procurement, sourcing materials and manufacturing with a focus on minimizing waste and operationalizing carbon-efficient transport.
Transforming how businesses’ processes run can yield quick results when it comes to improving sustainability and lays the foundation for their journey to achieve their overarching sustainability goals.
Chief responsibility officer and global sustainability services lead at Accenture
Today’s inflation crisis, driven by both demand- and supply-side pressures, is driving up the costs of commodities, food and energy at rates not seen in decades — and the situation may get worse before it gets better. That’s especially true in the Global South, where food and energy costs take a greater portion of people’s income.
Policymakers and central banks are addressing the issue through fiscal and monetary policy, but businesses need to act, too. While energy efficiency is only one part of the equation, it’s a step they can take immediately. It lets them align with long-term climate commitments, deliver short-term returns and alleviate pressure on consumers facing these challenges.
Advancing technologies, such as data and analytics, can deliver significant cost savings in ways that weren’t possible a decade ago. Government programs are also enabling change, making energy efficiency one of the fastest and most cost-effective actions to reduce energy costs while advancing progress toward global climate targets.
Increased energy efficiency has the potential to reduce emissions by 7 gigatons annually (of a total of 40 gigatons) across all sectors; and quick wins can be achieved by focusing on areas with greatest short-term potential like transport, real estate and industrial processes.
So, whether an organization is mature in its energy-efficiency programs or just beginning its journey, every leader can take action today to reduce the amount of energy their organization consumes while providing guidance and solutions to help all of us be more energy efficient in our own behaviors.
President and CEO at Sustain SC
Companies need to recognize the importance of looking in their backyard as they approach their sustainability road map to realize both economic and environmental benefits at the intersection of commerce and conservation.
Take, for example, South Carolina — considered a “red” state — is home to over 1,200 global companies, all of which have made ambitious sustainability goals including carbon-negative, water-positive, zero-waste and environmental justice commitments.
At the local level, that means we have a lot to gain if we connect the sustainability goals of global business in South Carolina with local solutions to benefit the economy, environment and people. Connecting these global ambitions at the local level not only improves the environment where they have a footprint but also ensures true quantitative measures toward action and progress. It’s why we’re excited to be working with companies like Bank of America, EY and Google to make this a reality.
As the world transitions from the industrial to the sustainable revolution, we recognize the opportunity this “global to local” model presents to attract new green economic innovation to our state to meet the demands of our aerospace, automotive agribusiness and logistic clusters. This means new jobs and new investments all while decreasing a company's footprint through access to green energy alternatives, sustainable agriculture technologies, carbon capture, utilization and storage, the circular economy and other innovative clean technologies.
Director of sustainability at Mijenta
There are clear and definable ways for companies to improve their sustainability practices, and these require an organizational commitment, creativity and patience. However, making real, enduring changes should not be considered easy.
Whatever the industry, there are always opportunities to adopt more environmentally friendly practices, but in my view, real improvement requires buy-in and visible leadership from the top. Setting the tone that sustainability is a priority for an organization may be the most critical element to driving change.
Mijenta was founded with a strong set of core values that have guided every aspect of how we operate. From the outset, we’ve approached production, sourcing and distribution with a goal in mind: to push the envelope as far as we can on sustainability in ways that benefit local communities. And becoming the first and only tequila producer to earn B Corp certification is an incredible validation of our approach.
Ultimately, to create a product that is better for the world, you have to create in new ways, challenge preconceptions and identify partners that share your mission and vision for what businesses can achieve. When designing packaging, for instance, this could mean choosing exclusively eco-friendly elements or sourcing from local suppliers.
Finally, I would urge taking a long view and embracing trial and error. It is important not to expect perfection and to dive in anyway to find out what works and what doesn’t. At the end of the day, I am inspired by the perspective that true luxury is to design with a responsible heart.
Global vice chair of sustainability at EY
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to a sustainability journey, but there are fundamentals that can ensure longer-term success for businesses, their initiatives and the issues they are trying to solve. If you need them, and not all companies do, bringing in experts and collaborators from the start will provide the necessary information and best practices needed to set targets, build strategies and, in the end, deliver results.
For example, at EY, we ensured that our targets to become carbon-negative, which we achieved in 2021, and net-zero in 2025 were approved by the Science Based Targets initiative. This in turn helped to guide our decisions so we could be ambitious when choosing where to put our time and resources.
We also collaborate with partners like the Sustainable Markets Initiative's S30 forum, which I’m proud to co-chair, the UN Global Compact, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and the Race to Zero campaign, among others. To that end, I encourage businesses to build partnerships with institutions that are dedicated to holding us all accountable and provide vital insights as we address the most pressing challenges of our time.
No business can go it alone. Everyone must play their part, so acknowledging from the beginning where you may have blind spots or gaps in knowledge could be your greatest strength down the line. Lean in and bring to the table those who will help us change the status quo and drive change for future generations.
Head of sustainability at Convoy
Data is the foundation of sustainability. Business leaders that focus on data collection, management and analysis across an increasingly complex environment is the first step to making progress against sustainability goals. Leaders who take this fundamental approach will be better positioned to elevate all areas of their businesses and have a better chance of meeting their environmental, social and corporate governance targets.
First start by identifying the operational and sustainable problems you are trying to solve and learn how you may be able to better understand those issues with data and analytics. Once you deeply understand your core problems, you will have a greater understanding of how your business is interconnected across departments and to your stakeholders.
See who's who in the Protocol Braintrust and browse every previous edition by category here (Updated Sept. 14, 2022).
Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.
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