Companies worldwide are looking for ways to incorporate sustainability into their strategic and operational framework. The reason is simple: Businesses are made up of people, and people benefit from sustainability. Moreover, sustainability increases an organization’s competitiveness, particularly in operational efficiency and recruiting and retention. In a phrase: sustainability matters.
But how does a company develop and implement a broad corporate social responsibility (CSR) program that meets the needs of the business, employees and customers? This was a question that global travel management company BCD Travel asked several years ago.
Sharon Dirks oversaw BCD’s first annual EcoVadis sustainability audit in 2010. She spent the next few years fine-tuning how the TMC gathered and acted on the data it reported to the internationally recognized sustainability rating firm annually. In 2016, BCD became the first travel management company to earn EcoVadis’ gold rating.
BCD considers its sustainability program a great success—but never completely finished. The TMC’s progress is detailed in its recently released 2018 Sustainability Report and 2018 GRI Report. Based on BCD’s experience, Dirks—who’s now director of sustainability—recommends the following steps to developing and implementing a successful sustainability program.
- Get executive buy-in. Ensure company leaders support sustainability and incorporate it into your company’s global business strategy. “Sustainability is an important component of today’s business landscape, and it’s also an important competitive advantage. Explain that to your executives,” Dirks advised.
- Create a cross-functional sustainability leadership team. To maintain ongoing support, assemble an executive sustainability committee made up of leaders from across the organization. BCD’s committee includes representatives from global client management, human resources, finance, business ethics, technology and supplier relations. The committee guides and supports the company’s sustainability efforts and ensures Dirks gets the operational data she needs for third-party assessments and the company’s required reports.
- Engage and educate employees. Employee participation in sustainability doesn’t happen automatically. Use educational programs to win support. BCD uses promotional and educational campaigns to engage employees in environmental activities, local charitable fundraisers, security awareness, employee appreciation events and more. Messages come not only from executives, but also from peers who encourage their colleagues to improve sustainability in BCD’s workplace every day. The company uses its global online learning platform to train on topics like health and safety, information security, ethical business practices and human rights.
- Be global and local. Expanding a sustainability program’s reach from a single country or region to the whole globe isn’t simple. Going global in a coordinated and consistent way proved to be BCD’s biggest challenge. “Countries and regions have different laws related to the workplace, the environment and other aspects of sustainability, so rolling out companywide standards was a big effort,” Dirks explained. It’s essential to have employees in each country committed to the success of the global program.
- Tap into industry best practices. If you’re just getting started with sustainability, start with the priorities that third-party firms like EcoVadis focus on in their assessments. In addition, the Global Business Travel Association Foundation’s Sustainability in Travel Self-Assessment Tool (created in conjunction with BCD) measures 10 areas of travel program sustainability, identifying strengths and weaknesses and providing recommendations for improvement.
- Be realistic. Don’t underestimate the effort and time involved in implementing a global sustainability program, Dirks advised. “And don’t think you can cover the whole world at once,” she said. Plan a phased approach from the start.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Companies that demonstrate sustainability success are good examples of how to get it right. Learn from them. Find a company that’s already running a strong sustainability program, and work to replicate their successes. The United Nations Global Compact website offers information on thousands of companies committed to the world’s largest sustainability initiative. The Global Compact calls for corporations to align business principles with sustainability efforts, including improving human rights, labor standards, environmental protection and anti-corruption practices.