Redefining Corporate Sustainability

June 5, 2019

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We’ve reached a new day in environmentalism and sustainability. Now more than ever, we are looking at the big picture and recognizing the long-term impacts of our behaviors and the products we consume. We can see it in the generation of children suffering from poor neurodevelopment, asthma and heart disease due to crippling levels of air pollution globally. Or perhaps most visually striking is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the island of marine debris estimated to be twice the size of Texas. These phenomena don’t happen overnight, and we’re becoming acutely aware of the different drivers that lead to the environmental crises we face today—with greater focus than ever being placed on product life cycles.

Thankfully, the corporate sector has made great strides in reducing their own environmental impact over the last decade. Today, rankings like the Carbon Clean 200 help investors and the general public alike track those companies that are leading the way in areas such as clean energy. However, if the slow or otherwise unknown progress on the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals is any indication, there is still so much more than can and must be done.

After working with companies large and small for nearly two decades, one thing is clear to me: to be a leader in sustainability, you must go beyond operational excellence. Don’t get me wrong, reducing your carbon footprint and creating a sustainable supply chain are critical to a company’s success today. However, for those that want to be stand out from the crowd, reap the reputational rewards and make a real impact, it takes much more than that.

Below are two key tactics that can drive real change and help a company remain at the forefront of sustainability.

Advocate

After committing to bold short-term and long-term goals for your own company, consider how you can influence other businesses, consumers, policymakers and others to adopt and call for similar measures. Share your call to action on social media, in an op-ed and during speaking engagements—ideally with the message being delivered by your company’s CEO for maximum impact.

Share What You Learned

Major companies have the resources and scale to pilot new approaches and invest in technologies to achieve their sustainability goals. Municipalities, states and smaller companies do not. Consider lessons learned as something that is as worthy of sharing as outcomes achieved.

While companies alone cannot turn the tide for the environment, we know they play a pivotal role. On this World Environment Day, my hope is that more companies become true leaders in sustainability, recognizing the unique power they have to influence outside their own operations.

Caitlin Myers, who supports our reputation management practice in our San Francisco office, also contributed to this piece.