Sustainability has become an all-encompassing term to capture how businesses approach timely issues that affect society, the environment, the economy, and even global politics. But it’s not just that everything old is new again; sustainability has evolved, and so has the power and reach behind it. Organizations of all kinds are now weaving it throughout their entire business model and at every touch point, from sports arenas and the supply chain to HR and even gaming.
From a talent and leadership perspective, a company’s size and scope will impact how sustainability is integrated into its culture, what objectives are put forth, and how to measure success. And yet another consideration is who or what makes the most sense to drive these initiatives, as they touch the entire organization—is it establishing a chief sustainability officer or an environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) officer or appointing some other role or group?
There’s also a need for any individual or group in that role to understand how sustainability impacts their specific industry and how to communicate that effectively to multiple audiences. Not only has sustainability become an important issue for prospective hires and current employees, but it also makes a statement about a brand, its values, and how to meet sustainability goals across the board.
Creating Value Through the Three Pillars of Sustainability
When we hear the word “sustainability,” most of us think of the environment and what brands are doing to support a green agenda—everything from reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to biodegradable packaging. But, to expand on that, there are actually three pillars of sustainability: social sustainability, economic sustainability, and (of course) environmental sustainability.
So, when we also factor in social and economic sustainability, the term itself becomes more holistic and has much broader implications for how companies successfully align it to their business objectives. These “value-creating” companies have clear priorities, targets, and key performance indicators (KPIs) but are also integrating sustainability into corporate culture, ensuring employees understand how it positively impacts the company and their individual role in supporting sustainability across the organization.
In my many conversations with CEOs and other leaders, sustainability is one of the first things that comes up. Organizations want to know how to become sustainable or practice sustainability in a way that aligns not only with their business goals and values but also with finding and engaging the right talent to support sustainability initiatives. That means, for instance, also homing in on (social) sustainability à la diversity, equity, and inclusion, so there are several factors at play, which begs the question: Where do you begin?
5 Considerations Regarding Sustainability and Attracting Talent
In general, there are five high-level areas where CHROs, CEOs, and other leadership teams need to focus their energy when establishing or strengthening a commitment to sustainability, especially when it comes to attracting, hiring, and retaining talent.
- Define clear objectives. One of the first things to do is identify and define relevant sustainability priorities and goals. Does the organization know which of the sustainability pillars it’s trying to address, if not all? Also, what are key areas of the business where sustainability will have the most impact?
- Ensure leadership support. This can come in a couple of different flavors: Does the organization have the right leadership to support any (and all) sustainability initiatives? If not, what kind of leader or leadership team do you need to ensure success? Does it make sense to appoint a chief sustainability officer or establish some other role to drive related initiatives?
- Identify the audience. Who (or what) is benefiting from sustainability goals? Is it a matter of getting current employees on board or attracting new talent? Or, perhaps there’s a need to highlight sustainability initiatives to consumers/end users to underscore shared values and a mutually beneficial commitment to sustainability?
- Demonstrate progress. How do you successfully quantify and/or qualify sustainability-related efforts and initiatives? What type of data do you require to set up consistent benchmarks and KPIs that provide an apples-to-apples comparison across the organization?
- Make it part of the culture. Last, and certainly not least, what steps need to be taken to ensure sustainability is integrated throughout the business so that every employee is in lockstep? This is where strong leadership is needed from the CEO, not only to set the tone but also to identify opportunities and challenges and drive home a clear commitment to sustainability as an integral part of the company’s mission, value, and goals.
As I mentioned earlier, sustainability means different things to different organizations. These top-level considerations are simply meant to help guide HR, CEOs, and other leaders as they identify specific sustainability needs and wants, from leadership and hiring talent to corporate culture and aligning KPIs.
And despite a lack of a one-size-fits-all approach to sustainability, there are some fundamental elements such as a commitment to transparency and knowledge-sharing. By combining these elements with the three pillars of sustainability and clearly identified objectives, organizations will not only create value but also embody it as we collectively work toward a sustainable future.
Tracy Murdoch O’Such is President for the Americas at Marlin Hawk, where she is responsible for the management of the organization’s Americas region and the development of its global Digital, Media, Entertainment, and Sports Practice. O’Such has extensive experience in executive search, as well as direct industry experience in large media conglomerates. She is focused on the convergence of media and technology, working with some of the world’s most notable brands, placing C-suite leaders as chief digital, chief marketing, chief communications, and chief revenue officers. Before joining Marlin Hawk, O’Such founded her own retained executive recruitment firm, Lex Media Solution, subsequently successfully selling it to the U.K. executive search firm Odgers Berndtson before the sale of the New York assets to Diversified Search. She went on to lead the New York office at Diversified for 15 years and received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of New Hampshire. Connect with her on LinkedIn.