We are a large IT firm. We are a major supplier but also procure from an extensive supply chain. Our customers are starting to ask us what is our sustainability strategy and what our carbon emissions are. We haven't yet started. Where should I begin?
Last week I gave the closing keynote at the first sustainability conference for a major IT provider whose their top customers and partners were in attendance. This question came from the Q&A session that followed my keynote.
I could tell the person who asked wanted to get the ball rolling on sustainability. A traditional top-down approach would mean that a sustainability strategy would be initiated by the C-suite. They form a team to develop a sustainability strategy, scope the carbon footprint for the company, and execute a materiality assessment.
But candidly, sustainability does not have to start at the C-suite. Yes, you will need to eventually get them on board, but sometimes you need to start with the lever with the most business impact. The lever of most business impact is the department or function that is most closely tied with the business' core products or services.
In the case of an IT firm, the sales and the procurement groups are the places of most business impact. Customers specify terms in their contracts that the company must follow; and, the procurement department specifies the contracts for their suppliers. Given the importance of the scope 3 emissions for customers today, my answer to the question was that the procurement group is the place to start.
The lever for another company may be in the research & development department or it may be in the financing department. Every department ultimately has a role in a sustainability strategy but some group pull the lever with more force than others. Start there.
What if the head of that group is not interested in engaging with you? Bring in that leader's biggest stakeholder to the table and have them ask for the sustainability strategy. You may need to surround the lever with multiple forces to move it in the direction of sustainability. Understanding these levers is what will get the ball not only rolling - but gain other people next to you to keep it rolling.
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