2020 is set to be a big year for sustainability: COP26 in Glasgow will be crunch time for agreeing how to reduce global carbon emissions and will act as a lighthouse for businesses to announce yet more pledges and commitments; rules like the Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s ESG Disclosure Requirements or The UN’s Principles for Responsible Investing will take effect or start to bite; the Bank of England will begin the groundwork for its next stress test to focus on climate change risks; and several commentators, including The Economist, are expecting businesses to fill the void left by national governments distracted from climate change by populism and trade wars.
Sustainability has already moved from the fringes to become a business-critical issue and businesses still thinking about the ‘why’ of sustainability strategies need to move on to the ‘how’ or face being left behind. Whatever sector you are in or whatever size you are, there is a player in your sector embracing the sustainability transition as a platform for growth, a chance to innovate, create new markets, overhaul supply chains, contribute to system change and improve performance.
These are the businesses already sending signals to investors, policy makers and consumers and setting a new prevailing context in which reputations will be grown and others whittled away.
2020 is the year businesses need to get serious about developing strong sustainability strategies and become much more confident about proactively communicating those strategies as a foundation for long-term growth and stability. If you want your reputation to keep pace with change and avoid watching a hard-won reputation diminish, you should consider six things to start with:
We are all exposed to stories about climate change which leave us despondent at the scale of the challenge and the complexity of solving the component issues of the crisis. Whilst businesses can’t offer false hope through immaterial actions, there is plenty of room for positive stories about sustainable transitions which offer examples of material action, innovation and change at scale.
Sustainability is not zeitgeist. The expectations on businesses around sustainability are high this year and for this decade. Business that want to grow, innovate and thrive in the future have to transition and those changes need to be communicated so positive precedents can be set.