May—06

How to Get Leadership Onboard with Sustainability

Strategies to Use when Approaching Your C-Suite

Today, more than ever, organisations are recognising the impact they have on the world around them and trying to make decisions that mitigate that impact. Passionate people in organisations who want to make a change – what we call “Change Makers” – are crucial to success, but leadership buy-in is also a huge factor in creating sustainability outcomes. While it’s always great to have sustainable actions happen from the top-down, that isn’t what always happens in practice.

That’s why it’s crucial to get the leadership team on board as early as possible. The C suite has the ultimate influence over the organisation and can help get others to follow suit. Additionally, they also have control over the resources that can make those changes happen.

But approaching the leadership within your organisation can feel intimidating if you’ve never done it before. That’s why we’ve laid out some simple strategies you can use to help feel prepared and make your point known.

Jason goodman 6awf TPL Ga CE unsplash Photo by Jason Goodman

Ways for Getting the Leadership/C-suite Team Onboard

  • Find allies to help you.

Ideally, you’ll already have a green team that you can use to approach the leadership together, but if not, reach out to others that may share your vision and bring them on board. It will be easier to make your case if you already have some support from within the company.

Additionally, are there members of the leadership team that are likely to be on board that you could approach individually first? Having someone on the leadership team that is aware of your goal and ideally supportive can make the conversation much easier once you’re in the room and help you advocate.

  • Present sustainability as an opportunity for your organisation.

While we hope the trend of businesses that are a force for good continues, like B Corp, organisations are still driven by making and saving money. We encourage you to find a way to argue for sustainability that aligns with the wider company goals, they will be more receptive to it. For your argument, position incentives with long-term business success and future resilience.

Sustainability has intrinsic value for any organisation. Adopting sustainability practices can decrease operating costs by choosing energy-efficient lighting and appliances in your offices and better waste management. It can also increase your company’s reputation amongst competitors and the public, as sustainability is something that is that consumers are aware of more and more. A 2021 BCG study found that 79% of Australian consumers were aware of brands’ sustainability practices.

To make an impact, it’s important that you understand your audience and use the right language. While sustainability may be important for you because of something deeply personal, framing your reasons that way probably won’t be the best way to do so when approaching your leadership team. Stick to the business talk and how these changes would help the business – whether through costs, customer expectations, or increased value.

  • Focus on the future.

Keep the conversation friendly, positive, and open. Don’t focus on negative actions or impacts the organisation has had in the past, as playing the blame game will only make the C suite put up their defensives. You can’t change the past, but you can create a better future. Keep your arguments focused on the future and focused on the positives – for the organisation, the customers, and the wider community.

  • Quantify it.

Presenting sustainability as a net-positive for the organisation is great approach, but you’ll need to be able to back it up with supporting evidence. In order to be prepared and most effective in your reasonings, do some research and find data to back up your sources. Visuals, graphs, surveys, or government action plans can go a long way and do a lot of the heavy lifting for you.

If you’re arguing that increased sustainability will impact customer perceptions, bring in surveys that support this. If you’re arguing that better recycling will save the company money, show them how. Whatever data you use, make sure its from reputable sources with verified claims.

  • Compare to competitors.

Along with data to back up your claims, do some research into what your competitors are doing, why they are doing that, and how it may be affecting their business. If all your competitors are embracing zero waste offices, it’s a good sign that maybe you should too. If none of your competitors are even considering their impact, now is your chance to be an industry leader in that regard.

Positioning your organisation against your competitors will give a bigger industry picture and increase the chances of the C suite jumping onboard.

  • Take feedback and criticism from the leaders.

A discussion about sustainability does not have to be a one-and-done conversation. When you first present your case, understand that the leadership team will probably have questions, concerns, and feedback. Don’t take this as a no, but as a chance to go further and find direct solutions to the issues they bring up. Remember, they are thinking about the bottom line, so any additional concerns they have focus on that and you shouldn’t take it personally.

  • Start small to gain momentum.

You’ll have more success if you come prepared with one or two main ideas that you want to see implemented at the company. While you may be dreaming big, the leadership team will not be keen to make many big changes all at once. So start small, argue logically, and keep it focused. Once you persuade them on one issue, it will get the momentum going and hopefully convince them to do more.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, and even here at Method we made changes one at a time and grew them into bigger and bigger actions.

Wrap up

At the end of the day, the leadership team just wants to make the best decisions for the company, so if you use these strategies and can present a clear argument about why becoming sustainable is a good thing for the organisation, you’ll be in a good position. Sustainable actions at any organisation won’t happen all at once, so don’t be discouraged if you have to try a few times to get something enacted. Come prepared, be willing to take feedback, and find solutions to problems as they arise and your leadership team will be more likely to get on board.

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