Effective sustainability programs have the power to transform organisations and change the world. With a good plan and dedicated resources almost every school or company can reduce costs, better secure supply of their resources, improve resilience and culture and carry towards a vision of a better future. The problem it is challenging and requires a shift in thinking. This is apparently why many huge companies with a ton of resources aren’t yet getting it quite right.

A recent survey of more than 300 companies, including global giants such as Nestle’ and Coca Cola, concluded only 2% of corporate sustainability programs achieve or exceed their aims. This is a problem as the need for real change in the way all aspects of society interact with the world is growing at a rapid rate. So, what can we learn from big business? How do we get it right?

According to the research conducted by Bain & Company, the reason most of these initiatives fail to meet their potential has to do with ingrained views and behaviors. When frontliners are forced to choose between business and sustainability outcomes they are naturally wired to place traditional business priorities first. Compounding this issue, the majority of the workforce and stakeholders think sustainability is more about public relations than a new way of doing things due to need and the opportunities that presents. It often seems the disconnect between those who initiate and lead programs and the rest of the workforce is too great.

It seems obvious, however, as with many other programs, communication, engagement, self-direction and trust seem to be the key. Getting everyone on the same page, identifying the roadblocks, providing the road map and tools and supporting and measuring progress towards common goals. But how?

The study concludes with 4 key recommendations:

  • Commit publicly – Be bold, be accountable, engage your stakeholders and create a shared sense of mission. This is a way to reach our true potential and your group is doing its part.
  • Upper management leads – Through visible actions, not just words. You must set the vision, provide the resources and walk the walk.
  • Emphasize the business case – There is no shortage of proof. Consider that big company brands which demonstrate commitment to sustainability grew 4 times faster than non-sustainable products in 2015. It’s the same in every sector. If someone is doing a better job of providing a high-quality service that is also good for our future, who would you choose?
  • Be accountable –change your processes and practices and make everyone accountable. Set a standard. A good example is changing a procurement policy to one that selects for sustainable products using a checklist that is required for purchasing approval.

And, most importantly make it inclusive, fun and worth striving for. There must be something in it for everyone. Do away with labels, maybe just use terms like “connected” or “fair”, and follow inspirational examples from diverse backgrounds and see what you can adapt to your own circumstance. Much like examples and lessons discussed by Callum regarding his “Green Connect” urban farming enterprise. And don’t forget to give something back.