Deep Dives

Three steps for transforming your ESG strategy into action

June 15, 2023
Deep Dives

Three steps for transforming your ESG strategy into action

Setting ESG goals and crafting a roadmap is no small feat; however, the true journey begins once these objectives are established. To achieve significant and meaningful ESG progress, a strategic approach is imperative, involving the cultivation of stakeholder support, implementation of effective measurement tools for progress monitoring, and the development of transformative programs, initiatives, and policies to drive sustainable change.

In our latest webinar: Advancing from ESG strategy to impact, we hosted industry-leading experts from Bath and Body Works, Brilliant Earth, Panera Bread, and Recology, who shared the tactics they used to evolve their sustainability programs. Here are the top three takeaways from the conversation:

First up, make choices: the what, the how, and the when

There are numerous decisions to make when you’re implementing your ESG strategy. Tina Bosch Ladd, the Head of Sustainability at Panera Bread, recommends focusing on three vital factors: the what, the how, and the when. Materiality assessments are a great starting point to help you know what to prioritize when you’re setting ESG goals. The assessment can be used as a barometer for what matters, and to help you ensure you’re on track. Elements like external market factors, changing leadership in your organization, and mergers and acquisitions require constant analysis of your program’s direction. 

Julia Mangin, the Head of Sustainability at Recology, notes that if you don’t have the budget for a materiality assessment, you can get creative: look across teams to see if other departments have people interested in sustainability who would be willing to lend a hand. She also used the practical example of using peers’ materiality assessments as benchmark comparison to come up with a starting point for what is material for Recology, and supplemented it with surveys. With some ingenuity and internal resources, you can narrow your focus.

After you’ve established those review processes, how you decide to go about those issues in accordance with your brand is another pivotal decision to make. This could mean considering external partnerships, or focusing more on internal alignment of your programming. And finally, she says, it’s all about timing. When do you get started? You can be strategic and craft your goals first as a kind of roadmap, or you can jump right in and get started. There is no right answer here; it all depends on your bandwidth, and what is going to propel you in the best direction.

Next, formulate a plan for gathering your data

When your strategic choices become clear, the next step is to put together your goals, roadmaps, and strategies for specific programs. Jeff King, the Head of ESG at Bath and Body Works noted that if you don’t have the data you need to start working, finding a way to collect it is good place to begin. Start with basic commitments to establish a starting point, before moving on to more complex issues like Scope 3 emissions. The key is to create data and metrics knowing they may evolve year over year. That gives you a point of comparison, and a starting point for setting your goals. 

Roadmaps are another helpful way to involve your entire organization. The details from these maps help individual teams know where to go. Each team can take ownership of their choices, projects, and processes that will help deliver commitments to your overall strategy. This road-mapping also helps inform resource needs like head counts and budgets. Successful programming doesn’t happen overnight. Great visions need resources to be successful. 

Lastly, collaborate to advance your work

Allison Charalambous, VP of Responsible Sourcing and Sustainability at Brilliant Earth, emphasizes the significance of internal communication to gain support from employees and customers. As a mission-driven company, Brilliant Earth’s leadership fully supports sustainability, but she notes that it is still important to engage all levels of the company. This can be done by frequently updating the company on progress, continuously reinforcing the mission, and explaining how employees can support the company’s ambitions. She recognizes the importance of mission, purpose, and sustainability to their millennial and Gen Z customer base and employees, and has found that speaking to these values aids in driving both progress and business growth.

 Now for some fun. Each panelist provided some advice to their younger selves. Here’s what they had to say:

Tina: “Alignment is a moment in time. Keep going back to it and make sure it’s still there. And keep working to create and maintain it.”

Julia: “Whether you are on your sustainability journey or trying to get there, it’s not going to be linear. That winding path is the most helpful path you can go down, so be open to it.”

Jeff: “Spend a year or two in the sales organization because sometimes I’m feeling like I’m selling 24/7-—to keep alignment, to bring the organization along. To have had some structured sales education would have really benefited me.”

Allison: “Everyone always talks about sustainability being so sexy, but get ready, it’s all about the data and the details. These are needed to work with your stakeholders.”

Navigating your next steps can be challenging. If you need help learning how to take your sustainability strategy and turn it into impact, take a look at our ESG Field Manual Part II: From strategy to action.

Three steps for transforming your ESG strategy into action
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