We decided to do something a little different for our last blog of 2020. We started by thinking about an interesting question for us both (Quin and Bronwyn) to answer independently, to see how we each process, analyze, and discuss a specific concept.
The concept/question that we decided on to guide our writing was: “How do you get people thinking about sustainability planning as a strategic planning initiative?”
We are interconnected. Sustainability demonstrates how the actions we take today, greatly impact the way in which future generations will be able to survive. The earth has a limited carrying capacity. Sustainability reminds us that we are finite. The way in which we live, our consumption patterns, our destruction patterns, will have impacts beyond each of our lifetimes. Additionally, the impacts of those that have come before us will continue to impact the environment in which we live, beyond our own lives. Inherently, to account for sustainability, is to account for the future – to be adaptable and resilient, so in short, it is a risk management and opportunity identification exercise. If we consider sustainability, not only do we plan for an uncertain future and the risks associated with this, but we also are able to think about opportunities for growth, change, and progress.
Sustainability frameworks can also be helpful tools to consider strategic planning initiatives within an organization because they can be tailored to fit an organization’s specific needs, goals, objectives. This is often done through what is called a materiality exercise. Materiality is the approach taken to determine what is important, or material, to an organization and its leadership and employees. After the sustainability goals and objectives have been set and prioritized, it is important to create indicators for tracking their successful achievement, as it would be for any strategic planning exercise. If effort is going to be put into the planning process, it is incredibly important to know whether that effort is being tracked, reported on and if progress is being made.
Sustainability planning is truly a strategic planning initiative. If organizations are thinking about economic, social, community, financial, environmental, climate, etc. goals, initiatives, and risks as part of the strategic planning process, then they are inherently doing sustainability planning.
We were part of a sustainability planning initiative earlier this year that included facilitating inter-disciplinary sessions, setting SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound) sustainability goals across a variety of key focus areas (which were based on organizational priorities and industry best practices). As we got further into the exercise, it became increasingly clear that many of the outcomes were similar to that of the strategic planning process that the organization had gone through just a couple of months prior. For this reason, we worked to align the sustainability plan with the key goals and outcomes of the strategic plan, to ensure that the chosen sustainability initiatives become critical to the short-, medium-, and long-term success of the organization. It was really exciting to see the people involved in the process have that “aha moment” as they realized that many aspects of their work and of the organization’s priorities were inherently related to sustainability. Seeing that integration is key. No one wants to develop a plan or associated initiatives that sit on a shelf and go no where. For that reason, a great way to get people thinking about sustainability planning as a strategic planning initiative is to make sure that the implementation plan is “SMART”. And of course, to include the people who will be responsible for implementing the plan (multi-disciplinary organizational representation) and who will be impacted by the implementation of the plan (diverse community members) in the process.
Some themes that emerged from both of our responses were the importance of:
- Tracking goals and establishing responsibility and accountability for their achievement;
- Taking a materiality approach and engaging with people across an organization (representing different disciplines) to encourage buy in and ensure that sustainability and strategic planning efforts reflect all aspects of an organization; and,
- Considering risk management when doing sustainability (and strategic) planning.
Bronwyn Worrick | MBA, BA, ENV SP
Co-Founder & Consultant