Haydn Young of GAIA Active takes a look at how to encourage directors to see the business value of sustainability.
Achieving recognition of sustainability in the boardroom is regularly signed as a key challenge for environmental professionals. Many have seen initial positive enthusiasm and support, diluted into casual interest or even reluctant tolerance. Fewer still can say sustainability has a firm slot on the boardroom agenda. So how can we get directors to see the business value?
Drop the seniority label
Firstly drop the ‘director’ label. Yes, directors are more influential if you get them to buy in, but you convince them using the same techniques as you would convince anyone else. The technique is the same but the message will be different.
Find your story
We all love a story especially when it has a good ending. It’s even better when the story relates to the reader. Moving businesses to the low carbon economy offers a new opportunity to prosper if it can adapt quickly. This new future arises being able to learn new things, find new business ventures and excel against the competition.
The challenge for the sustainability professional is to create this story by understanding what the opportunities are and extrapolating them into the future. For example if you are a food manufacturer how can you differentiate your products in the new low carbon economy? Do you buy more local raw materials and label your products locally sourced? Clearly no-one knows what the future holds but decent research entwined with strong conviction will be noticed.
Sell your story
You have now set the scene of an exciting future in your business, but the audience measures ‘exciting’ in different ways. What’s fun for you may be dull for others, so each director needs their own interpretation. The great thing about businesses is people do jobs of their own choice which therefore indicates the profiles and potential interests of the audience. An accountant may well have a head for environmental matters but when he’s asked to support something on behalf business will use his ‘finance head’ first.
So now the task is to interpret your story into their language trying to relate the drivers of the listener. Essentially what’s in it for them for supporting your story? For example imagine you’ve talked about sustainability supporting your business growth.
You would interpret this message to: finance as increasing profit per head; marketing as finding new markets to explore; IT as unearthing new technology to learn; sales as creating new revenue lines to make sales and HR to lift the company culture and find new career opportunities. In each case you are reaffirming the core story but reshaping it to the listener.
Bringing it together
The phrase more widely used to describe the future opportunity is Sustainable Competitive Advantage. Finding your business advantage in the new low carbon economy. There will be an advantage you’ve just got to find it, relate it to your business, then promote it with confidence.