Overcoming the engagement barrier
04 February 2014 by Ailsa Burns
Marks & Spencer’s Plan A is an impressive example of a sustainable business strategy making a massive impact on the profits of a company. This sustainable business initiative helped Marks & Spencer cut costs, reduce risk and grow in a sustainable way saving the company a cumulative $305 million over the first five years that it was implemented. Marks & Spencer achieved this by ensuring that the argument for sustainable business was embedded in the board room and backed by a dedicated budget. However, sustainability professionals face a number of barriers along this journey.
The latest 2degrees Sustainable Business Trends Tracker study aimed to determine the greatest barriers for sustainability professionals in terms of ensuring that sustainable business was a top priority for a company as well as looking at where on the scale of strategic importance sustainable business lies for a company. The study surveyed 490 businesses ranging in size from small to medium enterprises with less than 250 employees all the way up to large corporations with over 5000 employees based in multiple sites across the world. These businesses also encompassed a large variety of sectors.
Sustainable business was identified as a growing priority for companies as 38% of those surveyed stated that it was central to their overall business strategy. However, the biggest challenge common to all businesses was internal engagement from both colleagues and board members. Regardless of the maturity or the level of priority placed on sustainable business, engagement was the top barrier for businesses.
Engagement generally, particularly senior engagement, is critical to moving sustainable business from a peripheral to a central concern becoming integrated into strategic decision making. The findings of the Sustainable Business Trends Tracker survey do illustrate that there are a number of things that may prove beneficial to assisting this process.
Compliance has been cited as the overriding driver in initial stages of developing sustainable business. Alongside cost saving resource efficiency, which featured as the paramount reason for driving sustainable business regardless of the level of priority assigned to it, this could be a useful tool in order to engage stakeholders and gain backing from decision makers.
Furthermore, there is a mismatch between ambitions and ability to achieve these targets in terms of both time and money. Businesses are still measuring sustainability in terms of short terms targets (less than 5 years) which ignores the values of a truly sustainable business. Also, 30% of businesses stated that they had no budget for sustainability and 30% had budgets of less than $165,000. However, there does seem to be a virtuous circle to sustainability spending; as a business dedicates more resource, the results improve and so more resource is allocated for future activity. If a company can allocate the appropriate time and money, then they will be able to reap the benefits and take advantage of this virtuous circle.
As this 2degrees survey emphasises, the fact that remains is internal engagement is integral to the success of any sustainable business strategy.