How organisations confront the challenge of managing sustainability

5 min read | Paul Gosling | Article | Corporate social responsibility | Sustainability

managing sustainability

Organisations both big and small have a crucial role to play when it comes to managing sustainability. Now more than ever businesses must adapt to the most effective approach, make it a top priority and communicate their strategy clearly.

Not only is it our responsibility to respond to the pressures our planet is under by reducing our environmental impact, there’s a huge opportunity to ensure you are attracting and retaining the best talent by having a clear and focused sustainability agenda. As our research shows, an organisation’s commitment to sustainability is important to a large majority (78%) of professionals when considering a new job.

Our most recent Salary & Recruiting Trends Guide reveals how different sized businesses are tackling the climate crisis today; over 3,200 respondents from UK organisations confirmed where board level responsibility for sustainability lies and how sustainability is managed in their organisation.

The categories from the survey are split up based on the size of an organisation; micro has up to 10 employees, small has between 11 and 50, medium has between 51 and 250, large has between 251 and 1,000 and extra large is comprised of more than 1,000 professionals.

Board level responsibility for sustainability

As it stands, more than a quarter (27%) of organisations have a Main Board Director whose responsibility is sustainability. Having a Main Board Director appeared to be the most common arrangement for micro-organisations in particular (36%), as well as extra large (29%) and small (27%) businesses.

HR was also cited as being responsible for an organisation’s sustainability initiatives, but only 10% of respondents said board level accountability lies with HR. Notably, there were a vast range of other responses, although these were a minority, regarding who is responsible for sustainability, including Compliance / Health & Safety (8%), Estates / Property (8%), Operations (7%) and Finance (4%). The variety of different beliefs about where responsibility for sustainability currently lies is interesting, as it clearly illustrates the lack of general consensus about where sustainability best fits within an organisation.

How sustainability is currently managed across organisations

According to our research, 29% of respondents said their organisation has no dedicated resource, so sustainability issues are currently picked up by one or more people alongside other responsibilities. Almost half (45%) of these are from a micro-organisation and 43% are part of a small organisation, compared to only 16% from a very large organisation.

At a fifth (20%) of organisations, sustainability is managed by a single person supported by others in different parts of the company. Of these, 24% are part of a small organisation, 20% a medium-sized corporation and 22% from a large organisation.

Communication and clarity is needed

Our research illustrates that both employers and professionals still lack clarity when it comes to where board level responsibility for sustainability lies within their organisation. 27% said they were unsure, the largest proportion (33%) of which belong to a very large organisation, closely followed by 29% at a large organisation.

When asked who manages sustainability in their organisation, 17% said they were unsure – 21% of which are part of a very large organisation and 16% who are from a medium-sized corporation. This is certainly something employers need to rectify in order to improve their sustainability efforts and the awareness surrounding them, to simultaneously improve talent attraction and retention.

The importance of having a dedicated team

Whilst not many (7%) organisations have a large, dedicated team when it comes to managing sustainability, over a quarter (26%) of organisations now have a small, dedicated team in charge of overseeing sustainability. A third (33%) of these belong to a very large organisation, 29% a large company, 23% a medium-sized corporation and 16% are from a small company.

It’s promising to see sustainability going up on the business agenda in recent times, with some organisations building dedicated sustainability teams. However, we need to see other businesses following in these footsteps to overcome the environmental challenges we are faced with today. It’s about putting your values into practice and understanding what approaches work best.

Businesses can truly benefit from utilising people with specialist expertise to successfully steer sustainable activity, in order to help meet their sustainability goals. Ultimately, organisations with a dedicated team who own accountability and prioritise managing sustainability will be on the right track. 

About this author

Paul Gosling, National Director for Sustainability Recruitment, Hays

Paul has been a specialist recruiter in environment and sustainability for over 25 years. He started recruiting into the sector in 1995 after finishing his BSc in Environmental Science and he’s worked with thousands of individuals and hundreds of companies over the past 20-plus years to support their growth and development in this dynamic and critically important sector.

During this time, Paul has built a wealth of knowledge and he’s recognised as a leading expert on overcoming the unique recruitment challenges facing the environment and sustainability sector.

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