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A Simple Way For Any Canadian Business To Kick Off A Sustainability Strategy

A Simple Way For Any Canadian Businesses To Kick Off A Sustainability Strategy

Learn small steps for business leaders looking to begin their sustainability journey.

Few Canadian small and medium-sized businesses will map out a complete sustainability strategy in a single session. The sheer magnitude of issues — such as those threatening our climate — can make it difficult to determine all the actions a company should take, and in what order.

That’s why Bina Venkataraman has come up with what might be called a “minimal viable action” for business leaders to begin their sustainability journey.

It doesn’t cost anything, other than time. You don’t have to have any specialized skills or a background in environmental studies. You just need imagination, and commitment to see it through.

Speaking during Salesforce Canada’s Grow With Purpose: Sustainability virtual event, Venkataraman —author of The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead In A Reckless Age — suggested sustainability efforts could begin by writing a letter.

This could be a letter to your future customers, your children or even yourself, she said. Just write it within the intention that it be opened 25 years from now. Write about what you recognize as the challenges facing our planet, and the future you hope to leave behind.

“It’s a way of stoking empathy, where you think through your impact on your community and the planet and how that’s being influenced by the decision you’re making today,” Venkataraman said. “It’s almost like sitting in a rocking chair by the fire with yourself.”

Urgent Priorities For A Planet In Peril

Companies may need to take that time for reflection, given all the choices in front of them and the action plans being drawn up by governments all around them.

At the recent COP26 summit hosted by the United Nations in Glasgow, for instance, some of the commitments included:

  • A pledge to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030.

  • A commitment to reverse deforestation by 2030.

  • A call to “phase down” the use of unabated coal and other fossil fuels

According to Patrick Flynn, Salesforce Canada’s vice-president of sustainability, it’s important for companies across Canada to recognize the role they play in helping to achieve these ambitious goals. It should also be a part of any discussions they have about how they want to manage and grow their business over time.

“Nothing is going to determine whether that strategy succeeds or fails like its alignment to climate,” he said. “We should see (sustainability issues) as a way to handle and really think through how we’re going to face those, long-term strategic forks in the road.”

Looking Beyond The Short-Term

Companies have often struggled with this, Venkataraman said, because as humans, we tend to have a cognitive business against thinking about issues like climate change. They seem like a long way off and involve too many variables that are out of our control.

The letter-writing exercise is useful because it’s one way of beginning to imagine the future as though it has already happened, she said.

“It’s where you can begin trying to identify the areas where you have the influence,” she said. “Once you start building that idea of the future out beyond yourself, you might discover you have more agency than you might expect.”

A good example of individual agency is by helping to set norms for others. Think about how smoking indoors went from an everyday occurrence to a socially unacceptable act, she pointed out. The same could happen with sustainability, where companies no longer see sitting on the sidelines as an acceptable business practice.

Flynn agreed, noting that sustainability needs to take into account all the stakeholders who are affected by the current challenges.

“Climate change is first and foremost about equality,” he said. “It’s those with the least who suffer the most. Tragically, it’s also those who have done the least to help us avoid these circumstances who are destined to bear the worst brunt of it.”

How Technology Helps Business Become The Greatest Platform For Change

Fortunately, there are tools available to begin gathering all the data necessary to address issues like climate change, and to make sure any actions companies take have long-term impact. Salesforce’s Net Zero Cloud, for example, was based on a tool Salesforce developed internally to measure our own carbon footprint. Flynn said companies of any size can now use it to pursue meaningful changes.

This may mean changing what companies measure as well as what they reward, Venkataraman said. Rather than focus solely on quarterly profit margins, for instance, businesses could begin to look at how they’re managing to reduce emissions in their supply chain as well. In some cases, this may lead businesses to seek out different kinds of investors, she added — those that see sustainability as equal in importance as profits, and who will hold business leaders accountable.

“It used to be much more of an uphill battle sitting down with companies and CEOs and talking about the risks of climate change,” she said. “There’s now a broader understanding that these are challenges that affect all of us, and they affect the bottom line. That conversation has really changed. I see that as a really positive thing.”

“There’s never been a more positive impact available to any human being than even one hour that’s spent on climate action,” he said. “Customers’ expectations around this are changing. The approach companies take on sustainability will shape which businesses succeed into the future.”

Learn more about how Canadian companies are putting sustainability front and centre by reading our earlier post on GWP: Sustainability featuring DECIEM.

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