Is 2020 Sustainability’s Tipping Point? The Year That Killed Corporate Complacency

December 8, 2020

Focusing strictly on profit makes it hard to look at business through any other lens. Especially when things are going well.
Why change a good thing? Right?

Now 2020 wraps up as a year where the answer to that question will be very different. The status quo doesn’t cut it anymore.

Consumers have quickly changed the focus from how business is done to the way business is done — especially during a global pandemic with the backdrop of citizens raising their voices for broad social change.

Ultimately, it’s a very good thing. Turning a profit and being a good global citizen aren’t mutually exclusive.

How to achieve goals through balance

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) is a framework that’s gained traction as a widely accepted standard. This list of 17 goals is a starting point with common terminology that organizations can work toward to make lasting change.

These goals reflect more than financial growth or environmental impact — they expand the definition of sustainability. No one expects any one company to make progress on all 17 goals at once. The idea is — at the very least — to start somewhere.

Follow this step-by-step checklist to make meaningful progress.

  • Set benchmarks. Assemble a cross-functional team to review where you’ve been before setting the future-state. Determine what makes sense for your business form a corporate social responsibility standpoint. Then look at what others are doing across your industry.
  • Conduct a materiality assessment. This uncovers what’s important — what’s material — to stakeholders. Survey employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers, retail partners and anyone else you value to the business to answer questions about what matters most.
  • Align responses to the UNSDGs. Look for themes in survey results and which UN goals they may fall under. Focus on three to five UNSDGs to start.
  • Report goals and progress. Clearly communicate where your company stands and where you want to go in an initial Sustainability Report. Establish goals and share them. Create a high-level plan for getting there. Then share progress each year.
  • Get to work. We all know a year passes incredibly fast. Even 2020. Take action rather than wait until your goals are perfect Making real progress creates a better world — not just a sexy headline on a press release.

Perfection: The enemy of sustainable change

A crawl-walk-run approach makes sense for creating real change. We all have a story about how wanting to be perfect impedes us from acting at all.

Moving slowly but deliberately out of the gate avoids large-scale mistakes and gives time to show success, get buy-in and know what works. Then move forward with long-term goals in mind and at heart.

And if you face pushback, show that being a good global citizen and doing right by your shareholders and customers go hand-in-hand.

For all its turbulence, 2020 could also be the sustainability tipping-point. Think in terms of meaningful purpose, not just profits. And the best way to meaningful change is to start today.