Has your sustainability strategy hit the buffers?

feelings of frustration
Photo by Uday Mittal

by Nick Tatchell

“It all started so well. We had a plan to get to net zero by 2040. Our leaders got behind it. We communicated it properly to our employees. But now it feels like we’re walking through treacle. I don’t know how to get back on track.”

Perhaps you can identify… You’ve experienced the buzz as your CEO communicates your sustainability plan. But before long everything, and everyone, is back to Business As Usual…

The reasons for this could lie in your company culture

Most of you will know the saying: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Company culture can dictate whether your sustainability strategy creates lasting change, or whether it turns out to be a flash in the pan.

For 20 years I’ve heard front-line employees from hundreds of companies comment on their company’s new vision or mission, or on their new CEO’s promise to deliver change. I’ve seen so often how company culture rears its head when companies try to change things.

“We listened to our CEO talk about our new net zero strategy. But remember her promise last year to improve working conditions in the factories? Nothing changed. So why should we trust her on this?”

“As a line manager I have 1001 objectives and targets already, and now they’re talking about giving us some new “net zero” ones! But financial targets are the only ones that really matter around here.”

“We’re told that sustainability is our new strategy, but all deliveries to the shop are still wrapped in single-use plastic, which we don’t have any way to recycle. So it’s all just words…”

“I had an idea once about how to reduce our energy use. I told my manager, but it’s like he completely forgot about it. I never heard anything more about it.”

Perhaps some of these comments could be made by employees in your organisation.

Shared stories, collective memories, unwritten rules and ingrained organisational habits can bring even the most brilliantly designed net zero strategy to a screeching halt.

How well do you know your company culture?

Well-designed employee surveys, employee forums or virtual focus groups (as offered by WTW, among others) can pinpoint cultural strengths and weaknesses. But it’s vital to do this through a sustainability or ‘net zero’ lens. You will find out which aspects of your company culture reinforce your sustainability strategy, and which obstruct it. And where in your organisation employees are already engaged in what you’re trying to do, and where they still need convincing

You can then work with leaders and managers to make changes that will release the handbrake on your sustainability strategy.

And you can get that buzz back again…

Click here to find out what a Net Zero culture looks like, or contact me if you would like to chat about how NetZero.Work can make your next culture survey a Net Zero one!

Photo by Jen Theodore