Here are 3 Ways to Cultivate Your Sustainability Culture.

Tensie Whelan

By Tensie Whelan and Chisara Ehiemere

To embed sustainability, your culture should embrace sustainability. Corporate culture is shaped by a clear vision, mission, purpose and shared values, and it is supported by employee policies and practices that mirror and reinforce these values, shaping how employees work, make decisions and treat one another. You may be thinking, "My role doesn’t directly control culture," but there is a lot that you can do to influence it. Let’s look at how to create a culture that supports sustainability.

As part of a culture update, your company’s vision, which is its aspirational ideal for the next 10-15 years, should include a sustainable future. McCormick & Co., a global spice and flavor company, articulates its vision as "A World United by Flavor — where healthy, sustainable and delicious go hand in hand." This vision underscores a goal of achieving harmony across the three elements. The mission, in turn, should be the roadmap for how the company aims to achieve its vision. Your company’s values should create an environment where employees are encouraged to prioritize sustainability goals alongside financial goals. Its purpose should act as a strong motivator for employee engagement in sustainability. In 2018, Patagonia changed its mission statement from "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis" to a clearer and crisper purpose-driven mission: "Patagonia is in business to save our home planet."

While you may not be directly responsible for defining, promoting or enforcing your company’s ethical code, know that a truly sustainable business is an ethical business, and vice versa. You can highlight to leadership how internal ethics improve trust and credibility with stakeholders and the ability to build relationships to further sustainability goals. In addition, consider that unsustainable behavior is often also unethical, and can come at a cost. In 2019, Carnival Corp. and its subsidiary Princess Cruises, for example, were fined by the U.S. Department of Justice for continuing to dump plastic and other waste overboard after its initial conviction in 2017. In its values statement, Carnival described its workplace as "an environment where safety, hospitality, teamwork, and respect for the environment and each other are essential"; however their actions were unethical and contradicted these values — and cost them $60 million.

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