The most and least challenging issues facing companies when it comes to sustainability

Strategy - Sep 07, 2017

Each year Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI) analyses the areas that organisations find least and most challenging in the Business Working Responsibly mark questionnaire. The Business Working Responsibly mark standard, for responsible and sustainable practices, is based on ISO26000 and is open to any organisation.

  • Community Engagement, Training & Development, Sustainability/CSR Management and Customer Relationships best answered in Business in the Community Ireland Business Working Responsibly Mark Questionnaire
  • Work-Life Balance; Climate Change Adaptation; Biodiversity; Water Management and Transport Management the most challenging

Among the 22 companies assessed in 2016, the highest scoring indicators were Community Engagement, Training & Development, CSR/Sustainability Management and Customer Relationships. The group tended to have clear management commitments, planning, activities and review around these topics. It is not surprising as no business sector can survive without good customer relationships, training, community engagement, and increasingly, CSR / sustainability management.

But can business survive without managing the following? The lowest scoring indicators were Work-Life Balance; the Climate Change Adaptation aspect of Carbon Management; Biodiversity; Water Management and Transport Management.

Currently the challenge of these topics lies in expressing intent and having complementary structures (responsibilities, KPIs and assessment) in place to identify goals and to take action to improve these areas of responsible and sustainable business practice.

However these are not trivial issues.

For example, the need to manage the impacts of climate change, its potential to affect where premises are located, deliveries, supply chains and business continuity generally, are more important than ever considering reports that year on year temperatures are increasing as well as rainfall measurements in Ireland in the last 30 years. The effect of humans’ activities on the climate and on the planet is, by several predictions, projected to cost trillions to the global economy if not addressed.  Consider too the potential cost in human terms of having to deal with the worst case scenario of an increase in temperature of up to six degrees. If Donegal’s recent weather events are a symptom of climate change, then we have a very tangible example of what that can mean. Water management and Transport Management are caught up in the management of climate change and adaptation to it.

Similarly Biodiversity and Ecosystem services – are made up of all the intangible and irreplaceable natural processes that benefit people and businesses, such as: Food, Fuel & Fibre; Clean water and air; Carbon Storage;  Peace and Beauty; and many more, all of which are under a significant amount of threat, due to our actions. Protecting and developing biodiversity, for example through even the simplest steps of planting and designating space for wild life, has commercial value and such activities can engage employees, local schools and communities. These processes have been conservatively valued at €2.6bn in Ireland, and we need to value these services if we are going to benefit from them in the future.

Or take work life balance. Flexible working is not about working less but about adapting to employees’ life needs. The needs of millennials are discussed frequently but there are also stages in life with particular needs including parents, carers, or the need for phased-retirement. As the economy picks up, many might argue that now is not the time to worry about flexible working options. However the converse is also true: as the economy creates more jobs, the competition to attract and keep employees increases and the concept of an ‘employee value proposition’ comes into its own. An important component of an employee value proposition is flexible working practices along with factors such as diversity and inclusion, strong employee communication, fair and transparent rewards.

These are important areas and the current wider context for business makes them even more pressing. The social and environmental policies of large global political and economic players are in flux.

Also converging on business are investor pressures and EU instruments such as the non-financial reporting directive which demand greater disclosure and avoidance of some of the environmental but also social issues facing the world.  Diversity and Inclusion and the protection of Human Rights are addressed there for example.

At an unprecedented level, the calls for CEOs to take a stand on climate change, on the future of work and on social cohesion are multiplying and we have seen the beginnings of a response to that as CEOs have taken strong positions on responsible and sustainable business issues in the USA in recent months.

Can business step up to the Mark?

To support companies in understanding, acting and communicating performance on these topics, including the challenges arising in the Business Working Responsibly mark, Business in the Community Ireland has established CEO ‘Leader’ groups of Mark companies. These CEOs have selected three high-level socioeconomic issues that businesses working together, are uniquely positioned to define and address: 1) the transition to the low carbon economy; 2) the worker of the future; 3) social cohesion. This is addition to its range of services to support stakeholder communication, employee value propositions, human rights assessments and more.

At our annual CEO event in November, we will announce new companies that have achieved the Business Working Responsibly Mark and we will focus on how business leaders have seen their sectors change over a decade, how sustainability is paying off and more importantly how addressing the challenges of sustainability can bring a level of certainty to a rapidly changing business context.

A sample of the Business Working Responsibly mark is available to try here: