Businesses new to Sustainability often already have many building blocks in place to launch a successful Sustainability Program.
Definitions for Sustainability, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and Responsible Business differ greatly for various groups of people. It can be confusing to know how best to define sustainability in the context of your own business.
Here are some popular ways of looking at sustainability:
- For Regulators, Sustainability means ensuring businesses compliance with laws and following best practices for product quality, safety and health.
- For Investors, Sustainability suggests the ESG criteria they monitor to ensure businesses are managing non-financial risks and opportunities well.
- Sustainability professionals and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) care about the ways businesses address their positive and negative societal impacts on People, Planet and Profit, affecting diverse stakeholders.
- For Consumers, Sustainability suggests buying “eco-friendly” products or those that may have been produced with “fair trade” practices. “Sustainability” may also mean taking steps to minimise harm to the environment in our daily lives.
- Community members view Sustainability as a way to address environmental issues and prevent them from affecting their local communities. They also expect businesses to support local employment, suppliers and non-profits.
- Employees may seek positions in companies they view as sustainable for their proactive involvement in positive environmental and/or social activities.
Given the importance of all of these perspectives, businesses need to define Sustainability in a way that makes sense for them. This definition should align with how they operate and how they will set Sustainability goals to meet their stakeholders’ interests.
Join our free webinar to gain clarity on defining Sustainability for your organisation.
Uncovering Sustainability Strengths
After settling on a relevant definition of Sustainability, a Sustainability Strategy starts with an audit of your existing business practices and policies. In many cases, businesses are already checking many of the boxes their different stakeholders care about.
Quality Management is a good example of this. Sometimes businesses overlook their own product and service Quality improvements as key parts of their Sustainability journey. Yet, making Quality improvements over time supports their overall Sustainability.
If your organisation already has an ISO 9001 Quality Management System (QMS) or an ISO TS / IATF 16949 system, you’re likely already managing and monitoring many Sustainability issues as a core part of your business practices.
Customer Safety and Satisfaction
ISO 9001 outlines key guidelines ensuring product safety in ways that reduce environmental and health risks. For instance by minimising the use of hazardous materials in product manufacturing, organisations minimise health risks linked to those materials. The emphasis of ISO 9001 on customer satisfaction requires tracking customer grievances regarding environmental and social impacts and taking appropriate actions to address these issues.
ISO 9001 addresses outsourcing, laying the groundwork for a policy to obtain input materials from ethical and sustainable suppliers – specifically ones that achieved a recognised sustainability certification. Responsible sourcing can lower the use of conflict minerals, benefit local communities with local sourcing, and minimise environmental impacts related to the transport of input materials.
ISO 9001 promotes continuous supplier engagement and dialogue. Companies first identify specific supply chain issues relevant to their industry sectors. Then they ensure all appropriate actions are being taken to properly address issues such as conflict minerals or human rights. Organisations engage with their suppliers through surveys or audits, track and monitor their collected data and establish procedures for addressing non-compliance with a ‘Code of Conduct.’
ISO 9001 embeds community involvement through its treatment of stakeholders, which are defined as interested parties (e.g., neighbours, employees, industry groups and regulators). By meeting the standard, businesses assess their stakeholders’ needs and expectations and put processes in place to engage and respond to concerns that could impact them.
ISO 9001 becomes a due diligence framework for issues of business ethics and human rights to minimise risks. Businesses should develop organisational policies that address how ethics are maintained and integrate ethics considerations into their ‘Code of Conduct’.
Typically, a ‘Code of Conduct’ policy addresses key corporate ethics issues: anti-corruption, conflict of interest, antitrust, anti-bribery, information disclosure, whistleblower protection, intellectual property protection and confidentiality. It should also address human rights issues such as harassment, abuse, discrimination, child and forced labour, as well as disciplinary and grievance procedures. After this, establishing governance ensures compliance with these policies.
Quality Management vs Sustainability
Clearly, there are a lot of ways QMS activities overlap with Sustainable business practices. Yet, without a system to track and monitor these areas of commonality, it can be hard to capture the full Sustainability value embedded in a system like ISO 9001.
At Staarsoft, we’ve developed a 13-step approach that uses QMS activities to manage the following four Sustainability key areas:
Products and Services
Environment involves the management of hazardous materials, tying into responsible sourcing and supplier engagement, as an integral part of providing high-quality products and services.
Operating practices can demonstrate due diligence through the development and implementation of a Code of Conduct.
Products and Services are covered in Product Safety and Customer Satisfaction. When a company demonstrates their compliance with health and safety standards and management of customer concerns, they have the building blocks in place to improve their Product Sustainability over time.
Community strategy starts with stakeholder engagement, a critical part of quality management systems. Responsible Sourcing also benefits local communities by prioritising local business relationships.
Keep in mind that Sustainability reporting guidelines such as the Global Reporting Initiative increasingly emphasise the ongoing management of Sustainability issues. That’s why it’s important to leverage a Quality Management System to successfully manage a Sustainability Strategy.
Leveraging the Sustainability links to Quality Management
In sum, Quality Management serves as an important lens for identifying ways your business is already managing its Sustainability issues.
Businesses that adhere to Quality Management standards such as ISO 9001 or ISO TS / IATF 16949 are already managing many Sustainability risks.
This management approach should be reported within your Sustainability report, so key stakeholders can publicly access this information. Here’s how we help with this.
StaarsoftⓇ is a management software that gives you the tools to simplify your Sustainability strategy. With StaarsoftⓇ, you can identify existing strengths, so you don’t have to “reinvent the wheel” as you start a Sustainability program. It then helps you track, monitor and improve organisational Sustainability.
About the Authors:
Erica Eller is a GRI certified and GARP Sustainability and Climate Risk certified sustainability copywriter who specializes in B2B thought leadership writing and ESG reporting. She writes for clients and agencies focusing on climate tech, ESG and climate risk. She has worked with Fortune 500 companies, fast-growing start-ups, and sustainability-linked non-profit organizations as a full-time self-employed copywriter since 2019.
Murray Sittsamer has helped hundreds of companies become more effective and efficient. Prior to consulting, he held leadership roles in engineering, operations, finance, strategic planning, and quality management. Murray is president of The Luminous Group, which he founded in 1999 – www.luminousgroup.com. The Luminous Group partners with Tavares Group Consulting on client projects related to ISO 14001 and Sustainability.
Murray earned his undergraduate degree in Industrial Engineering from The University of Pittsburgh. He holds a Master of Science in Industrial Administration (MBA) from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. Murray has four wonderful daughters, enjoys yoga, cycling and spends time in various volunteer activities.