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Esther Donders: 'Sustainability requires ownership at all levels; the boardroom and the shop floor'

'Top management has the task of making everyone in the organisation owners of sustainability and rewarding good plans and their realisation. If teams are motivated and inspired then great solutions emerge. From the shop floor, which they could never have come up with from the boardroom.' That is the experience of Esther Donders, Associate Partner Boer & Croon

Onderwijs

With sustainability high on the agenda of almost every board, the question arises to what extent concrete results are being achieved. Companies are forced to act by legislation. The European CSRD sets requirements for sustainability reporting and disclosure. Leaders set the tone by communicating with much fanfare.

But despite all the good intentions and PowerPoint presentations, few organisations seem to be achieving significant results. Making an organisation sustainable goes beyond simply selling sustainable products. The management often has an ambition, a mission and a strategy, but the plans to realise these must be made and implemented at a lower level in the organisation. It requires the involvement of all functions within the organisation.

For example, HR has to think about the impact on labour market communication, remuneration policies and training programmes, and procurement on supply-chain sustainability and partnerships. All departments and organisational units need to review their contribution to the strategy, redefine their responsibilities and integrate sustainability aspects in their reporting and decision-making. What is important is that they are made responsible for it and assessed on it.

A complicating factor is that such a transformation often means a change in existing organisational structures and essentially also requires a shift of powers from the top to the lower layers. This can put pressure on hierarchical relationships and encourage a wait-and-see attitude.It is also important that the whole organisation is imbued with a long-term commitment. Anyone can set up a sustainable pilot, but scaling it up structurally upon proven success requires much more from an organisation. The legislator can play a role in this, though. One example is that the use of circular concrete in construction is on the rise since CO2 emissions come with a price tag and have to be reported.

It is not only the thinking in the boardroom that needs to change. Everyone has to contribute strategically. Top down alone is not going to work. Top management has the task of giving everyone in the organisation ownership of sustainability and rewarding good plans and their realisation. When teams are motivated and inspired, great solutions emerge. From the shop floor, which they could never have come up with from the boardroom.

For more information contact Eshter Donders