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How to align actions to future environmental objectives

You’ve analysed your current environmental performance, but now what? asks Andrew Furness

 

An Initial Environmental Review (IER) can provide an ideal start point for organisations looking to embark upon their journey towards improved environmental sustainability. An IER can generate a register of environmental risks and opportunities which can then be evaluated by management with the objective of formulating sustainability policies, strategies and systems relevant for their business.

It could be tempting to save time by simply copying what others are doing but it misses the critical point of tailoring an action plan to your organisation’s specific circumstances and objectives. But how do you avoid this becoming a box ticking exercise and ensure you reap significant gains in operational and financial performance?    

Corporate sustainability is more likely to be enhanced if the business is supportive of change and a holistic view is taken across the supply chain, while addressing a longer-term horizon e.g. five years or more. But, as this year has demonstrated, things can change rapidly and therefore it is important to have a regular review process which not only encourages innovative thinking but also supports transparency in reporting to the organisation’s stakeholders.

Following a few simple rules should help put the required framework in place for analysing the information generated from the reviews.

Once the IER data has been collated, management team ‘meet’ (face-to-face or virtually as dictated by circumstance) to discuss and agree what the business needs to change in order to improve its environmental sustainability performance. Prioritising particular areas of risk or opportunity will help resources be directed to where they will have most positive impact. This seemingly straightforward activity begs the question of who sits on this management team. Consensus is usually achieved more quickly among like-minded parties but the more diverse the team’s composition, the more likely innovative and creative solutions will result, as different perceptions and experiences are brought into the mix. 

The next stage is to engage the other stakeholders to share your vision for the future and your assessment of what needs to be improved to realise it. By ensuring there is a common understanding of the issues, consensus can be built around a shared purpose across the supply chain. Factoring into planning those macro trends that will be shaping our futures has never been more pertinent than today, albeit who foresaw the impact of this pandemic even 12 months ago? But there are trends which will remain fixed points in our thinking for some time to come, such as increased regulation to address waste and our impact on climate change.   

To be effective, all stakeholders must not only align with this shared vision but must commit to taking the necessary measures to achieve it. Such a collective endeavour will require a management system which prioritises those actions while supporting more innovation, better communication and greater coordination. Fine words and aspirations, without sufficient resources being committed by the relevant stakeholders, will, however, remain just that. Time will be the most valuable resource of all, particularly in the early stages as multiple and varied interests will need to be reconciled in a collaborative manner, thus enabling changes to existing policies and operating methods to be successfully adopted.      

With an ongoing brief to improve performance, maintaining momentum among stakeholders will be a big challenge, but simple things such as regular and constructive engagement along with celebrating even minor wins, will help keep focus and motivation levels on track.

As mentioned earlier, it is vital that outcomes from the actions implemented are regularly and objectively reviewed to see how strategies will need to be adapted to achieve the organisation’s sustainability goals. Engagement, openness and collaboration will be key watchwords for those managing the process.

 

Andrew Furness is a consultant to the international events industry and Associate Member of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment. He can be contacted at: andrewfurness17@gmail.com