Sustainability was once viewed as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) tool to help companies polish their public image. But as sustainability concerns gain momentum among consumers, employees, and other important stakeholders, it is becoming increasingly tied to company purpose and operating models. That’s the conclusion of our hosts, Courtney Hughes-Lord and Ephraim Patrick, Mercer, and guests, Fiona Murfitt, Evolution Mining, and Roslyn Toms, nib Group, at our recent webinar, Organising for Sustainability.

 

Panelists: 

Ephraim Patrick 

Partner, Workforce Transformation

 

 

     

Courtney Hughes-Lord

Principal, Workforce Transformation 

     

Roslyn Toms
Group Executive Legal & Chief Risk Officer, nib 

 

 

     

Fiona Murfitt
Vice President Sustainability, Evolution Mining

 

 

Highlights from the webinar: Organising for sustainability (5 minutes)

Drivers of sustainability

 

In our webinar poll, most participants indicated that ‘reinforcing the organisation’s purpose’ was the top driver of sustainability within their organisation (41% of participants).

 

nib Group Executive Legal and Chief Risk Officer, Roslyn Toms, says that she wasn’t surprised at the result. “When you're delivering on your purpose, you're going to meet both shareholder and community expectations. At nib we have five pillars of sustainability, but one is very much linked to our purpose of ‘your better health’.”

 

“Sustainability means different things to different people, and to different companies,” said Evolution Mining Vice President Sustainability, Fiona Murfitt. “You need to be clear about your purpose, and where you want to have the most impact.”

 

Intentional design

 

Sustainability in business has evolved over time. This meant things were often ‘bolted on’, sometimes resulting in sustainability roles in strange parts of the organisation with a lack of clear alignment, metrics, and accountabilities.

 

The key question for organisations is how to be more intentional and strategic in the way we design and deliver sustainability outcomes.

 

To achieve maximum impact with sustainability initiatives, organisations need to make conscious design decisions. There are five dimensions of organisational design that can help frame this decision-making:

  1. Stakeholder engagement – organising the communication
  2. Focus and scope – organising the spotlight
  3. Structure and governance – organising accountability and oversight
  4. Resource management – organising talent and capability
  5. Metrics, incentives, and funding – organising the numbers

5 Dimensions of organisational design for sustainability explained by Ephraim Patrick, Partner, Workforce Transformation, Mercer.

Each of these dimensions represents a spectrum of choices, and there is no right or wrong – it’s about what’s fit for purpose in each environment says Ephraim Patrick, Partner, Workforce Transformation, Mercer.

 

With so many choices and trade-offs when it comes to sustainability, having a framework that prioritises purpose is vital in helping define your focus area.

 

Fiona highlights that companies are realising the complexity surrounding the different elements of sustainability. “It’s not a case of just pulling one lever. You have to pull all of them.”

 

She says that for Evolution Mining, Stakeholder Engagement and Focus and Scope are critical. “They help you define where you have the most impact.”

 

 

Fiona also highlights that when numerous stakeholders are involved – each of whom wants something different – it can be a slippery slope when trying to be everything to everyone. “That’s why anchoring back to your purpose, and to what your key stakeholders are telling you, becomes really important.”


Roslyn explains that nib works closely with both external and internal stakeholders to understand what’s important to them, and that providing good metrics is an important part of the engagement process. “What gets measured gets done, so having metrics that the market can look to and see how you are tracking is important.”

 

Sustainability roadblocks

 

The webinar participants stated ‘insufficient resourcing or capacity’ as the main challenge impacting progress toward their organisation’s sustainability goals.

 

In addition to this, Roslyn sees a lack of meaningful data as a roadblock. “That will change in the coming years. In the past, sustainability has been one of those ‘nice to have’ things, but more recently that has shifted completely.” She says that sustainability now has the buy-in of boards and CEOs, so you need metrics and targets to show your stakeholders how you are tracking.

 

Fiona and Roslyn agree that the types of challenges an organisation will face depend greatly on its level of sustainability maturity. “Going back 5-10 years, it was hard for sustainability to have a voice,” says Roslyn. “But if sustainability is tied to a company’s overarching purpose, it’s going to get that visibility naturally.”

 

Conclusion

 

“Sustainability can no longer be seen as a seat on the side,” says Fiona. We are starting to see this sentiment reflected by executives and in board rooms with research finding that 80% of boards confirm sustainability has gained frequency as key board agenda in the last 18 months.   

 

For people to buy in, organisations need to position sustainability in a way that connects with those involved, where it counts for them. “It needs to be viewed through that lens of contribution and value creation. If you’re able to do that, then you can start to bring people’s will on board.” This has also been reflected in Mercer’s 2022 Global Talent Trend Study, where almost 70 % of Business Leaders voiced concerns about their organisation’s ability to effectively embed sustainability goals into their business transformation plans.

 

“We need to define what sustainability means to us and where we want to have an impact. Everything else stems from there,” says Fiona. “It doesn’t matter what you care about, as long as you care. If you’re in this space, find out what people care about."

 

“This is about protecting the most vulnerable, so it’s really important. And the bottom line is that you’ve got to get on board and get started. If you don’t, it’s going to be really hard to catch up.” 

 

Get in touch with Mercer ...

Ephraim Patrick

Ephraim Patrick 

Partner, Workforce Transformation

Laura Manescu

Courtney Hughes-Lord

Principal, Workforce Transformation 

Access the webinar recording, slides and the report ‘Organising for sustainability’

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