Develop Your Sustainability Business Strategy.

Tensie Whelan

By Tensie Whelan and Chisara Ehiemere

Once your company has completed its materiality matrix by identifying which ESG issues and stakeholders should shape its business strategy, here are the next steps to develop, benchmark and activate your sustainability strategy. 

First, brainstorm what risks and opportunities might be associated with the material ESG issues you have identified and then explore how you might tackle them. Let’s assume that water use is a big challenge for your business. You will first need to understand where the risks are in your supply chain and explore potential solutions. For instance, if you use a lot of water in manufacturing facilities in regions with water quantity and quality issues, and local water supplies in those regions are threatened by extreme weather events and poorly managed water withdrawals, then you should explore strategies such as watershed conservation and protection, as well as technologies and procedures that reduce your own water footprint. Levi Strauss, for example, set 2025 water use targets for manufacturing based on local water stress to increase the number of products made in facilities that recycle and reuse water.

You must then define the future goal that you would like to achieve and how you can get there through defining milestones and objectives. What is your baseline — how much water are you using now? How much water reduction is necessary to be truly ambitious relative to peer standards, how much is feasible, and what is your action plan? Are you developing the opportunities as well as tackling the risks? For example, the development of a new water-conservation technology might provide a competitive advantage with customers or become a product that you sell to competitors. To seize that opportunity, you must understand your current water-use performance, benchmark against competitors, explore technologies that can reduce water use, and reach out to key stakeholders such as NGOs, community groups and regulators that are working on water issues in your operating regions. Using the previous example, Levi Strauss set a goal of reducing freshwater use in manufacturing by 50 percent in high water stress areas by 2025 from a 2018 baseline. 

Read the full GreenBiz article.
Tensie Whelan is a Clinical Professor of Business and Society and Director of the Center for Sustainable Business.