Launching a new sustainability strategy

Challenge Sustainability - June 18, 2018

Ten years ago or more, setting your targets with a 2020 end point seemed like a good idea, didn’t it?  A nice round number, maybe even linked to some business growth plans.  But with 2020 now fast approaching, what next?  The obvious choice is to push the boundary by another ten years to 2030, and in doing so, align to an extent with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.  Recent examples from the likes of Olam, the world's third-largest agricultural business, with their 'Living Landscapes' policy, and Anglo American, under their Future Smart Mining program, show how these strategy launches can become far-reaching and transformative in their ambitions.

For those companies going through the process of launching a new ‘vision’, ‘framework’, ‘mission’, ‘dashboard’ or other type of ‘strategy’, a number of challenges present themselves:

  • How to explain the transition between the ‘old goals’ and the ‘new goals’, especially when there is still some time to run on the old ones?
  • Are long term goals believable (anymore)? Some stakeholders suspect companies are keen to make a loud noise in trumpeting new goals, but then quietly retire them when progress is difficult.
  • How to balance providing the technical details needed to support credible goals, e.g. science based targets, with getting your messages across in a simple way?
  • How to get your CEO to sign off stretch targets beyond his or her likely tenure in post, where the commercial drivers are difficult to forecast?

These challenges can hold up a launch and even result in entirely the wrong reception.  Many companies’ stakeholders have been through previous strategy launches, and seen new targets come and go.  So you can forgive them some degree of cynicism and fatigue. 

Challenge Sustainability are working with a number of companies at the point of launching new strategies, so we have distilled down a series of key learnings for any company looking to get maximum value and impact from all the hard work of developing a new strategy. 

Here are Challenge Sustainability’s top five ways to tackle the challenges:

  1. Be transparent
    Dodging the difficult issues, because they don’t seem to fit with your core business strategy, is immediately obvious to everyone. From the oil and gas companies, to tobacco and pharmaceuticals, history shows that it never pays to gloss over or ignore the elephants in the boardroom.  Far better to anticipate the difficult questions, and turn negative issues into market opportunities.  Genuine commitment to a more transparent approach in tackling difficult issues, will always be the route to success.
  2. Stay co-ordinated
    Timing is everything. Whether you choose to launch the strategy within an existing sustainability report, or as a separate announcement, it is essential to ensure the timing does not conflict with other events.  Impact will be greatest where the CEO can make the announcement as a core element of the company’s future plans.
  3. Use many channels and formats
    A basic press release will fall flat. The wide variety of channels available such as websites, Twitter, LinkedIN, other media give companies the opportunity to deliver the new strategy to stakeholders in a range of formats.  Bringing the strategy to life by connecting it to the companies products and impacts on society is essential.  Using videos, animations, and audio in a creative way, can achieve engagement and understanding in a way not possible through plain text.
  4. Target your audience
    Different channels also provide the opportunity to tailor your message to specific stakeholders. Where particular elements of your strategy are especially relevant to certain stakeholder groups, it pays to draw these elements to their attention.  This tactic can help encourage and support dialogue on the issues, and reduce stakeholder ‘fatigue’.
  5.  Keep it simple
    Whilst it is human nature to try and anticipate every possible angle or question stakeholders might have about your strategy, it can help to hold some details back. Why?  Because you risk drowning your key messages amongst all the detail.  Challenge yourself to define the small number of key messages you want your strategy to convey, and make sure these are clear in all your communications.  Have follow up material ready at launch for if people ask for it (eg some FAQs and an expert briefing).

Communicating a strategy in a clear and credible way need not be an impossible challenge.  A new strategy presents a massive opportunity to demonstrate your vision and commitment to improving sustainability performance on key issues over time.  If you need help making sure you take this opportunity, talk to us…