Setting sustainability goals for your business
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By Carolyn Wincer, 4th January 2022
Travelife for Accommodation explains how to go about setting sustainability goals for your business that have the most chance of success.
We always recommend a holistic approach to setting goals and taking actions so that you are making both environmental and social improvements across a range of business areas, rather than getting fixated on one issue. Not only does this ensure you are addressing a wide range of sustainability issues, but you are more likely to have at least one goal that resonates with your stakeholders, and to be successful you will need the support of your staff, customers, suppliers and investors.
Below we have suggested the best areas to focus on in terms of improving your sustainability performance, but first you’ll need to make sure you understand how well your business is performing now in each area. This means assessing where you have the greatest impacts as well as where you have potential to make the greatest improvements.
A holistic approach to setting sustainability goals ensures that a range of issues are addressed.
This involves an honest and detailed self-assessment where you look at specific metrics such as how much energy or water you consume, along with more subjective information such as how your business influences the local community. We recommend you look closely at each of the following areas:
Greenhouse gas emissions (energy, water, waste, food)
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Labour (staff welfare, treating people fairly)
Once you have completed the self-assessment, you have a starting point to work from and it should be clear exactly where improvements can be made. For example, one goal could be to reduce your energy consumption by 20% and this will be easy to measure because you have a benchmark, or starting point, to measure your performance against. Or perhaps you found that you do not engage with your community at all, so an obvious goal might be to start attending community meetings so that you understand local issues better, or to support a local fundraising initiative.
Start with small steps
Whilst it is great to have ambitious goals, and you should make sure you include those in long-term plans, we find that the most successful businesses break these down into smaller steps, starting with the things that are easiest to achieve. For example, installing solar panels on your roof is a great idea and will be effective, but if you don’t have the budget or time to do that right now, leave it as a long-term goal and instead focus first on where you can have a real impact over the next 12 months. On that note, perhaps one of your objectives could be to set aside funds each year so that you can pay for something like a renewable energy installation or a waste composting facility in the next 5 years.
Securing support from senior management is a key step that can mean the difference between success and failure.
Document your goals and get senior management approval
For the purpose of this blog, we have assumed that the reader is familiar with the SMART criteria for setting goals, with this acronym serving as a reminder to ensure that any goals you set are specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-related. Keep this in mind when writing your goals and ensure you have a plan to back each one up. For example, if one of your goals is to reduce your energy consumption by 20% in the next 12 months, how will you do that? Will there be any costs involved? Who is responsible for overseeing this? How will you measure your success?
Your goals should then be turned into an annual sustainability plan that is approved by senior management. That approval is a key step that can make the difference between success and failure, because if the people responsible for your budget are supportive, you are more likely to get support for any resourcing you need.
Communicate your ambitions
There is increasing public concern about sustainability issues, particularly those relating to climate change and human rights, so many of your stakeholders will want to know that you are taking action in these areas. Whilst it can be daunting to share goals that you are not sure you can achieve, doing so is an important way of keeping you motivated and showing your stakeholders that you operate in a honest and transparent manner. It is almost always beneficial to be open about where you may have fallen short of your ambitions. As long as you can show you are aware of problems and have a plan to correct them, the vast majority of stakeholders will value your honesty and transparency.
Monitor your progress
It is essential that time is set aside to monitor your progress at least once a month. We recommend producing a brief sustainability report that summarises the actions you took, and their effectiveness, and that this is discussed internally each quarter in order to ensure you stay on track. Celebrate when you are doing well as a means of motivating staff to continue supporting you. Where you have not progressed as much as you had hoped, look for where changes need to be made. Without this regular monitoring, it is all too easy to get to the end of the year and find you have made almost no progress at all.
Review and adjust your goals annually
We recommend investing time in a thorough annual review of your progress that you document into a report that details what worked, what didn’t and what your next set of goals and actions should be. Some of them may stay the same, whilst others need adjusting. Or, if you did really well, you could be in a position to celebrate your achievements then start with a whole new set of goals.
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