Innovate Blog
The importance of a Sustainability plan

Friday August 4, 2017

Ask the Expert: Jo Gilroy (Head of Sustainability).

We asked our Sustainability expert ‘Is it important for a business to have a sustainability plan?’

And here’s what she told us…

Sustainability Expert - Jo Gilroy Twitter - @JoannaGilroy

Sustainability Expert – Jo Gilroy Twitter – @JoannaGilroy

There is an interesting development beginning to take hold across numerous businesses and industries, on a global scale.  And that is – the rise of the Sustainability plan, a written, documented plan that exists independently from the traditional Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report, that focuses exclusively on Sustainability.

Only a few years ago, it was the CSR report alone that represented environmental concerns within a business. Built around compliance requirements, the CSR report outlined how a business was meeting its legal obligations on: employment, diversity, health and safety, and last but not least – the environment.

In 2017, we see that more and more businesses are creating dedicated sustainability plans that either compliment, sit separate or sometimes even replace the CSR report.

Innovative organisations who have already published a Sustainability plan include: M&S with their Plan A, IKEA with their People & Planet Positive, and Unilever with their Sustainable Living Plan.  Today, perhaps taking a lead from these early adopters, more and more businesses are embracing the Sustainability plan approach.

I believe that the CSR report is still imperative for providing visibility and reassurance over legal obligations – but a business lead Sustainability plan provides a deeper reach on environmental topics,  required for an increasingly environmentally aware world.

Organisations often get hung up on the term Sustainability – both what it means in the broader sense and what it means within the context of their business.  But really, Sustainability is a straight forward concept.  If an organisation wishes to be viable in the long term, they must secure and protect what they cannot survive without: a healthy environment, a healthy workforce and customer base, a healthy profit and a healthy reputation.  It is staggering to think that the average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 index has decreased by more than 50 years.  In the 1920’s the average lifespan for our largest organisations used to be around 67 years.  Today it is a mere 15 years.

Developing a Sustainability plan is a crucial part of organisation’s learning how to secure their future.  Unlike a CSR report, a Sustainability plan is proactive.  It is a strategy that scans the horizon, anticipates future disruptions giving equal consideration to economic, social and environmental aspects, and develops proactive steps to be taken in the here and now.  A Sustainability plan should champion and give visibility to an organisation’s positive achievements whilst looking to go beyond compliance, to go deeper in terms of driving positive change.

But where to start?  There are many organisations creating a Sustainability plan for the first time, many of them will be finding it difficult to identify where to begin.  This is arguably one of the most important benefits of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.  Established in 2015 in concert with several of the world’s leading global businesses, this set of 17 goals (with 169 targets between them) respond to our biggest sustainability challenges to be addressed by 2030.  They present businesses, governments and other organisations with a roadmap for proactive development for turning current and future challenges into opportunities.

Now is the time to identify which of these goals are of the greatest importance to our respective businesses and industries.  Each of the targets underpinning the individual goals provide an end point from which it is possible to work backwards to the present and identity what steps need to be taken in order to achieve that target by 2030. Voila! A Sustainability plan is born.

Michael Braungart, co-author of a pertinent read, Cradle to Cradle, recently gave a Radio interview on BBC2 where he articulated an interesting observation.  If you knew that in 5 years’ time a rhinoceros was going to charge through a wall you happened to be in the vicinity of, would you take proactive action today?  The answer is no.  The vast majority of us would do nothing.  5 years is a long way off giving us plenty of time to act.  However, what if you were told that within the next 5 seconds the same rhinoceros was going to charge.  Would you take action?  It is safe to say that most would move like the wind, and in whatever direction was necessary to ensure survival.  Let businesses not make the mistake of thinking they have 5 years to act.  Let the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals be the catalyst for the on-going adoption of proactive and sustainable action.  And let’s ensure we have all have a robust Sustainability plan to help that happen.

At Bunzl Catering Supplies we’ve just launched our Sustainable Future 2017 e-brochure. A new 52-page document that presents the business’s evolving sustainability framework under its three key pillars: people, customers and suppliers.

Through a series of case studies, the e-brochure highlights individual and group endeavour – from charitable initiatives pioneered by Bunzl Catering Supplies’ employees, to innovative collection and recycling schemes designed in collaboration with its customers.

Joanna Gilroy, Head of Sustainability, Bunzl Catering Supplies comments “Working in collaboration across the whole supply chain, we’ve pioneered significant change that has had a positive impact on end-of-life solutions. I invite all our stakeholders to read this e-brochure and ask – how might we work together for a more sustainable future in 2018?”

To view the Sustainable Future 2017 e-brochure online please click here.

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