Alex Annaev

Start with senior leaders to engage your organisation in sustainability

Not all sustainability managers are lucky to have a supportive CEO like Paul Polman. According to Black Sun’s ‘Sustainability from within’ survey, in most companies (63%) CEOs rarely demonstrate commitment to sustainability to employees. Additionally, senior leadership support features as the number one factor in defining success of sustainability programmes in general and communications in particular.



For a majority of our survey respondents, internal sustainability communications is considered a priority for senior managers even though more work may need to be done. However, a sizeable minority (40%), report that internal sustainability communications is not a priority.



Having a business case is not enough to get support from senior leaders. The way in which organisations communicate the business case is key. Here are three key recommendations based on what we hear from clients:

Get supporters to talk for you

To engage employees, sustainability managers work with heads of HR, HSE, Compliance and other functions, if not the CEO. If you have a formal senior sponsor, either with or outside your function, your chances for success increase dramatically. Encourage him/her to present the business case as a team effort.

At one of our workshops, participants highlighted the importance of communicating views from employees to the CEO as a means of getting engagement at the most senior level.

Talk about the ‘why’ rather than the ‘how’

You need a business case to highlight positive outcomes for the business and the ability to be able to relate it to the executive agenda, not technical details of special sustainability initiatives. In fact, you do not even have to use the term ‘sustainability’.

Create an infographic to educate your leaders about positive outcomes.  It should feature no more than three points, supported with internal or external research. Ideally, estimated profit/loss effects will play in your favour.

Focus on bold commitments

Once you get access to senior decision-makers, it is better to use this opportunity to discuss bold, transformative opportunities rather than incremental improvements. According to Bain’s research, bold public targets create a shared sense of mission throughout the organisation and are a critical success factor of sustainability programmes.

Inspire your CEO to make a commitment to sustainability or a particular cause by engaging all employees in an induction video for new joiners, ensuring that sustainability has its place in the CEO’s internal and public agenda.

Getting senior leadership support is a required condition to make your programme a success, but it is not enough. Do not be precious about your supporter base. Rather, build an army of supporters from all levels and all locations within the organisation.

How can we help? If you would like to build a business case to engage employees on sustainability, or run a campaign, get in touch with Alex Annaev

Read the full Sustainability from within report here.