Chief of Staff, Egremont Group
Principal, Egremont Group
The pandemic has created an opportunity for businesses to refocus, rebuild and become a force for good.
What is a sustainable business?
Natalie: ‘Sustainable’ was coined as an environmental term — but it’s broader than that now. So, a sustainable business isn’t one that has a sustainability strategy or considers themselves a ‘green business’. Instead, it’s a business that balances purpose and profit, which means it actively tries to do the best for its customers, its staff, its community and the environment.
Hannah: Before it makes any decision, a sustainable business asks what the impact will be on its customers, staff, the community and planet. More companies are realising that their customers and staff care about sustainability and they can’t afford to ignore it anymore. Once, businesses struggled to balance profitability and sustainability. Now they realise they can’t continue to be profitable without being sustainable.
Has the pandemic had an impact on a company’s ability to build a sustainable culture?
Natalie: Our clients have had to deal with real difficulties over the past year, but in doing so they’ve been forced to look at their environment through new eyes and bring their people with them. They’ve redefined what kind of organisation they are to work with, whether that’s their employee value proposition or sustaining their reduction in carbon emissions.
The pandemic has also made businesses consider their employees’ needs from a wellbeing perspective, so they can be their best selves at work. That’s at the heart of building a sustainable culture.
Hannah: Organisations have seen how quickly they can change when there is a burning platform to do so. For example, we’ve been working very closely with a client who we’ve never actually met face-to-face. That’s unusual for us because we’d normally be based on site with them all day, every day. Remote working and contact via video conference call has created a better, more sustainable way of working for us and our people — but also for the client, because their teams are dispersed across the country.
Remote working and contact via video conference call has created a better, more sustainable way of working for us and our people — but also for the client.
You talk about businesses ‘resetting’. What is that — and how easy is it to do?
Natalie: Businesses have a choice. They can choose to do some things differently and a bit better. Or they can say: ‘You know what? The pandemic has forced us to fundamentally change a number of our practices. So why don’t we look at what else we need to fundamentally change in our operating model — and the impact that can have?’
However, you can’t just tell people to do things differently. You’ve got to bring the workforce and leadership team together. You have to create a culture where the employee voice is heard and where top-down desire meets bottom-up momentum. This creates a framework where teams are trusted and gives them the tools and skills to problem-solve and drive change.
So, what things can companies do to be a force for good?
Hannah: You can update your approach to performance management, building in objectives that actively focus on sustainability. You can make sure those objectives are cascaded throughout the organisation. You can define the kind of employer you want to be, and that your employees want you to be, and understand how this will help you going forward to, say, attract talent.
Plus, if you have a net zero ambition focus on operational excellence – drive effectiveness and efficiency through your processes. Reducing waste and repeat work benefits customers, staff and the environment.
Is sustainability worth it for a business?
Natalie: Is saving the planet worth it? Is creating a better working environment for your staff worth it? Is delivering what your customers want worth it? Is helping your community to thrive worth it? And, in case that’s not enough, then consider this equation: happy employees plus happy customers equals competitive advantage.