Now that sustainability assessment and management has become mainstream among Fortune 500 companies, a wide variety of business tools and software applications designed to retrieve, analyze and report sustainability data have been developed globally. Examples include tools for risk assessment, product Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), organizational footprinting, cost-benefit analysis, natural capital evaluation, future scenario forecasting and analysis, and supplier assessment – to list a few. In addition, many of these tools have become more sophisticated over time. So how do you ensure the tools you select are going to help you accomplish meaningful objectives and realize business value? Below are a few tips:
1. Have a well-defined strategy and think through what you want to accomplish. If you don’t know where you’re going, any tool will get you there.
Ensure you have a well-defined sustainability strategy (e.g. maintaining compliance, responding to the market, proactively engaging stakeholders, or shaping the future by accelerating and scaling sustainability) and specific goals. Different companies will follow different strategies based on their products and services, the markets they serve, and the regions in which they operate. However, it is important that your company aligns around the business case for a specific strategy, and understands how the strategy will help drive the business forward on its broader objectives. Decision-support tools should help solve organizational problems and support your overall objectives, rather than satisfying box ticking exercises.
Figure 1: Selecting a strategic position on sustainability
2. Understand your organization’s current systems and processes and how sustainability tools can enhance decision making within existing systems.
To ensure that sustainability is on top management’s radar, sustainability performance must be assessed on a regular basis and tied to management incentives. However, the scope of ‘sustainability’ is broad, involves complex interactions between environmental, social and economic issues, and involves several functions within a business (e.g. EH&S, Human Resources, Product Development, Supply Chain Management). That’s why taking a systems approach and embedding sustainability into everything the organization does is essential for effective decision-making.
Rather than creating stand-alone processes, sustainability assessment and management tools (such as our own tools) should be tied into existing systems and used to enhance decision-making by adding to and complementing the information considered. By doing this, you will face less resistance internally and create more efficient, cost-effective solutions.
3. Mature with your tools and use your tools to mature
In 2016, the PSRT built upon its Sustainability Implementation Pyramid and developed a maturity model called the Sustainability Leadership Framework that provides step by step guidance on how to improve in each area. Figure 3 illustrates how organizations at different levels of maturity will require different decision-support tools, and that more sophisticated tools can help advance an organization from one level to the next.
When determining which tools to pursue and how quickly, each organization must consider its individual circumstances and context, including its resources, strategy, priorities, and the estimated business value. Not all organizations will want to move across the model to the highest level of maturity. The key is for organizations to optimize their tools and systems based on their unique situation and goals.
Figure 2: Sustainability Implementation Framework
4. Consider the 5 “Cs” when developing your suite of sustainability tools
The 5 Cs of Effective Tools can be used as a guide to thinking through key questions and features you may want to consider when developing your suite of sustainability tools. Consider each C and how it relates to you.
Context – What are your business risks, opportunities and stakeholder expectations? What do you need to assess and report? What resources are available?
Content – What data and information will you need? What is currently available?
Culture – What is the current level of maturity and understanding of sustainability?
Controls – Where is data stored? What scorecards and dashboards are used to inform decision making? Who will use the information?
Consequence – What are you trying to achieve (corporate and sustainability goals)? How will you use the information?
What are the key elements of existing systems that business intelligence tools should fit within?
In 1999, the Product Sustainability Roundtable (PSRT) developed a Sustainability Implementation Pyramid that defines key elements required to drive successful implementation of sustainability.
Figure 3: PSRT Sustainability Implementation Pyramid
As this framework illustrates, robust data and information is foundational to having effective and reliable decision support tools. These tools should support decision making within programs intended to address the critical issues of the company. And those tools and programs need to be embedded into integrated management systems that work together across the organization to contribute to the core business strategy of the company.
Much of our day to day work life is centered around tools: choosing the right tool, using a tool to get something accomplished, or even complaining about a tool that was chosen incorrectly. The tips listed above – i.e. ensuring you have a well-defined strategy and goals, tying your tools into existing systems and processes, understanding your current culture and using your tools to mature within that context – can help reduce headaches and improve results by fitting tools effectively within the organization. A key mantra that summarizes these points is “People, Process, Tools”. Keep repeating this phrase over and over – and in that order – as you are selecting and implementing business tools. Even if we think tools will solve our problems, they will not be effective if your people don’t understand the process. Bringing these concepts together can help you transform sustainability performance to a level far beyond what most people think is possible.
If you would like to know how sustainability tools can support your business, or learn more about the PSRT, please get in touch with Lauren (Lauren.Bromfield@anthesisgroup.com) or John (John.Heckman@anthesisgroup.com) to find out more, or alternatively, use our fill out form below: