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Thriving with sustainability

Sustainability is core to running your business


January 29, 2018
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Susan D’Souza is senior national manager, quality, sustainability & regulatory, Staples Business Advantage.

From the December 2017 print edition

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is increasingly important to businesses to not only survive but thrive. Companies need to ensure their business objectives and targets incorporate a sustainability component so it becomes a way of doing business. Cultivate a true sustainability culture and I promise that you will reap the benefits. This was my message to those who attended the National American Society of Quality (ASQ) Conference in Ottawa this past September. Sustainability must be engrained in every part of your organization, every department and every job function. In essence sustainability should be integral to every activity and become part of the DNA of your organization.

You will see the results when sustainability is inherent in all you do and it will add immense value to your business. Increased operational efficiencies, reduced waste, cost savings, innovation, and strong customer loyalty are all fueled by engaged employees who help position your company for longevity and success. Less turnover and developing internal talent will breed internal subject matter experts who become your future leaders.

Attending sessions and presenting at the National ASQ conference was an eye opening experience. It was a great opportunity to collaborate with leading quality professionals from across the country that view sustainability as a key enabler to achieving business goals. Sustainability is a journey, not a destination. In my presentation I talked about the three mandatory pillars for a successful sustainability journey.

Strategy: It is critical to create a sustainability plan that is tailored for your business. One size does not fit all. By identifying the areas of your business that are most important and prioritizing them you can decide which ones you want to pursue to make the biggest impact. Sustainability initiatives must be aligned with the company’s overall goals and have well defined objectives and targets that are tracked continuously. What gets measured, gets managed and what gets managed gets improved upon. The goals you set must be ambitious, but achievable.

Employee Engagement: Leadership is important but never underestimate the power of your employees. Employee engagement is critical to the success of your sustainability plan. Employees can either make or break your plan. Leaders can set the high level objectives and targets but if we fail to get the buy-in from employees then our sustainability efforts are destined to fail. Engaged employees not only implement your programs and get them off the ground but they help sustain them. Invest the time upfront to educate, engage and empower your employees on your sustainability strategy and initiatives so they understand what you are trying to implement, why it’s important to the business and how they can each contribute to make it happen. Once you have their attention and they are motivated to contribute, remember to empower them with the tools they need to be successful so they can and will deliver the results. These engaged employees will become self motivated, loyal and often generate new sustainability ideas for the business to implement, hence innovation becomes a driving force.

Continuous Improvement: By instilling a continuous improvement mindset, your sustainability plan will gain momentum and longevity. Raise the bar to always improve so you do not become complacent. Complacency leads to extinction. By embedding continuous improvement into your organization you will reap many benefits to enhance your business and maintain your competitive advantage.

Having these three pillars top of mind in 2017 definitely helped our company succeed in our sustainability journey. In November, Staples Business Advantage received the Corporate Social Responsibility Leadership Award-Leading with Intention from the Canadian Office Products Association (COPA). This award was attributed to our engaged employees, particularly our local and national sustainability team members who are our sustainability champions who inspire those around them to make a difference and get involved.

I believe the vast majority of employees do not come to work just for the paycheque but also want to make a difference. Having a robust sustainability/CSR strategy enables them to do so. That ultimately creates a ripple effect of collaboration, teamwork and commitment.

CSR is not always easy and it has its unique challenges, however by embracing these opportunities and being innovative you will achieve success. Leverage employee engagement to drive sustainable business and you will accelerate your company’s growth and performance.