“Sustainability is not just a concept or a department in an organization anymore. It is integral to yourculture and a way of life. When you want to be two steps ahead, you need the conviction of everyone in the organization.”

-Suraj Bahirwani
President and Global Sales Head
Grasim Industries Limited

Experience shows that the initiative to incorporate sustainability into the fabric of the company has to be taken up by the CEO. In a study of 3000 CEOs conducted by IBM, 70% of CEOs say they are directly involved in defining their organization’s sustainability strategy. However, the effective implementation of sustainable practices involves delegation of responsibilities to various operations rather than a single function.

The transformational CEO archetype (read more about CEO archetypes here) refers to CEOs who have seek to effectively incorporate sustainable practices within the organization and reap its social and economic benefits. On the other end of the spectrum is the assessing CEO archetype that refers to CEOs who consider sustainable practices to be obligatory and therefore tend to overlook the benefits of such practices and investments.

Transformational CEOs engage leaders across functional areas, which demonstrates a commitment to integrate sustainability as part of an enterprise-wide transformation, rather than an isolated project. As seen in the figure below, transformational CEOs seem to delegate responsibilities more evenly across roles compared to the other CEO archetypes.

Figure 1. Delegation of Responsibilities by Various CEO Archetypes

One of the ways of making the Sustainability Dream Team is by using compensation incentives to drive accountability deeper into their organizations. Almost 40% of these CEOs are linking these compensation structures to specific sustainability goals.

Ecosystem partnerships are another area where transformational CEOs set themselves apart. Transformational CEOs engage broadly with their ecosystems, with 70% of them aligning with partners to jointly report sustainability measures. Strategic collaborations and innovative approaches within and across industries are essential to maintain sustainable operations. Such partnerships also provide opportunities for companies to forge new business networks and consequently support the growth and innovation within their organizations

The time for action is here. Realizing the business potential of sustainability requires concerted action on multiple fronts. With the BRSR dislosures  having become mandatory in India as of FY2022-FY2023, it is imperative that they are forward looking, and efficient.

Here are some actionable insights into how CEOs can work towards adopting sustainable practices.

  • Shape the narrative by championing a sustainable opportunity that is best suited to the principles and vision of the company
  • Define sustainability objectives and set targets, thus clarifying the direction in which the company intends to progress
  • Once sustainability goals are outlined, it is important to invest in fundamentals by focusing on technical infrastructure and capabilities that will serve as the building blocks for sustainable growth
  • Actively engage employees in the development and execution of the goals and infrastructure and attract a purpose-driven workforce with the domain expertise to execute.
  • Seek collaborations with ecosystem partners, thereby advancing shared sustainability objectives and accelerating insights initiatives and impact.
  • Redefine the company’s measures and metrics as it progresses towards its goals. Refine sustainability measures and data with a focus on improving ROI calculation.
  • Capitalize on your advantages by capturing new sources of value available only to those with sustainability at the core.

Such efforts will ultimately pave the way for a more sustainable future for companies and will also contribute immensely to societal and environmental development. With steady efforts and collaboration, the dream of corporate sustainability can soon be within our reach!

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