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Murray Sayce

Global Head of Sustainability Assurance Services, BSI

Organisations have a responsibility to set sustainability goals. However, it can be difficult to drive necessary action; but help, advice and support are available for companies to make an impact.

Sustainability goals aren’t a ‘nice-to-have’ for organisations anymore. They’re essential drivers of credibility and competitive advantage, insists Murray Sayce.

A growing necessity

“In the past, a company might have thought of addressing sustainability as a box-ticking exercise,” states Sayce, Global Head of Sustainability Assurance Services at BSI which supports clients and organisations to advocate best practices, champion sustainability and boost organisational resilience.

“Where sustainability was once regarded as an add-on, it is now seen as an essential part of any company strategy. This change has happened as the benefits and transformations that result from adopting sustainable practices are becoming better understood.”

Profit now goes hand in hand with reducing the impact on the environment, improving society, driving innovation, efficiency, diversity and so much more. Sustainability has a lot to do with transparency, not only in public reporting but also in how organizations manage environmental, social and corporate governance practices.

These are becoming more important as investors see a direct relationship between good sustainability practices and reduced risk.

“Internal and external stakeholder expectations regarding sustainability have intensified over recent years, as have demands from regulators, local communities and customers. Businesses need to identify their sustainability targets and then make sure they back up their commitments with positive actions.”

Tools are available to help companies understand and achieve their sustainability goals.

Defining and shaping goals

A good place to start is with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), described as “the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.” The SDGs aim to address challenges regarding the environment, inequality, poverty, hunger, access to water and responsible consumption and production, among other issues — yet, according to YouGov research commissioned by BSI, only 18% of UK SMEs are aware of them.

“If organisations align with the SDGs, it gives them credibility and benchmarking opportunities across all industries,” says Sayce.

The problem is — organisations can’t simply graft the Sustainable Development Goals onto their own operating models. “Each organisation is different,” says Sayce. “They must first take a long, hard look at themselves to measure the impact of the products they are making or the services they are selling.

Once they have identified and prioritised their sustainability challenges and issues, they can address them. The SDGs should be used initially as a North Star — a guide to where they need to get to.”

Guides for sustainability

Tools are available to help companies understand and achieve their sustainability goals. For instance, BSI has a free online sustainability evaluator that can help large and small organisations discover where they are in their sustainability journey, assist them with setting sustainability-related targets and provide constructive information concerning key sustainability topics.

“Helping customers achieve their goals and address their sustainability performance, as BSI does, speaks clearly to SDG goal 17 that refers to the importance of global partnership,” says Sayce.

Identifying areas of improvement

The worry is that organisations will gradually start to suffer from sustainability fatigue. Thankfully, Sayce doesn’t see it that way. “The companies that have been on this journey for the last 10 years are not, in any way, fatigued,” he says.

“They’ve had their wake-up moment and, if anything, wish they’d started earlier. There may be fatigue from companies that are constantly hearing the sustainability message but not doing anything about it. As soon as they commit to change, they’ll find a new way of working, a new way of doing business and realise opportunities they didn’t know existed.”

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