Sustainability people that matter
The more we elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.
J. B. Priestley
Engaging and supporting the people you need
Engaging leadership in sustainability is vital – even in a large organisation with dedicated sustainability specialists. To ensure that sustainability becomes and remains a strategic priority, sustainability professionals need to work hard to get the organisation on board. You need to start with the positions, roles, places and people that matter.
To support this, we have developed some snapshot profiles of key people who need to be part of leading, driving and embedding sustainability into the heart of the organisation.
Engaging with leadership – Cherrie, the CFO
If you go back a few years, CFOs (Chief Financial Officers) weren’t on the sustainability radar, sustainability was either the province of operations, or of specialist teams. However, if you’re going to drive real change in the business, sustainability must be understood as a strategic issue, capable of creating value, managing risks and driving innovation. For these new challenges, CFOs are key.
The CFO plays a vital role in being both the guardian of how money is used in the organisation and also how value is communicated to critical stakeholders such as owners, funders and investors. To undertake that latter role effectively, your CFO needs to be on board with sustainability, to understand and advocate for it as essential to your business future.
The profile of our CFO Cherrie below is not based upon any one real person, but she is based upon real people we have worked with!
Getting sustainability on the CFO agenda
Like CEOs, CFOs are busy, frequently detail orientated and frustratingly likely to ask hard questions about the financial pros and cons of investments in sustainability.
They want to see why and how new innovations and approached in sustainability are likely to translate into the bottom line.
Therefore, they are always likely to be keen on sustainability initiatives that produce more output for less investment, that provide clever ways to drive efficiency. However, they are also likely to understand that there are a number of ways that investors and funders analyse and assess business performance, and they can be invaluable in helping you translate sustainability into financial benefits.
Recent requirements, such as the TCFD (Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosure) are putting CFOs at the heart of the need to analyse, understand and communicate the implications of climate scenarios for business risk and resilience. If your CFO doesn’t yet get the need to be on board with sustainability, they may soon have a rude shock!
Use the language that they understand
Effective sustainability professionals have to be fluent in the many languages of business, from purpose to production, supply chain, logistics, brand and finance. Getting the CFO on board with sustainability means that sustainability professionals have to provide the means for the CFO to understand their importance in language that speaks to their priorities; risk, cost of capital performance, drivers of value and intangibles impacts. For an insight into how sustainability creates and drives financial value, see Show me the money! Sustainability and financial outperformance.
The CFO as a force for Sustainability
A sad truth of the sustainability profession is that it can be too frequently seen as marginal, a cost or as greenwash. By contrast, in most organisations, when the CFO talks, people listen. That means that if your CFO (and the Treasury function) is on board then sustainability will be recognised and understood as a priority within the organisation.
In addition, if your CFO is comfortable and confident to talk about the business benefits of sustainability to investors, they will also be clear that its core to the organisation’s approach and success, central to the effective management of risk and potentially seen as a driver of business growth (if your strategy is right!).