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Rooting Sustainability in the Business


May, 2021

While a rising number of organizations are appointing Chief Sustainability Officers, many leaders will argue that sustainability must be spread across the organization. That to achieve the business's ESG targets, sustainability must be built into every part of the business.

"If you take any sustainability target - for example, CO2 reduction - it affects every part of our business, from supply chain to R&D to product development," the Sustainability Director of a consumer business tells Sustainability Leaders. "For us to make progress, CO2 management must be built into how those functions work."

This same scenario exists in every industry. For most businesses, ESG impacts are concentrated not in their own direct operations, but in their value chains. For one healthcare company that Sustainability Leaders spoke to, only 5% of its carbon footprint exists in its direct business. The remaining 95% is upstream in its supply chain and downstream in its consumer base.

Effecting change in these parts of a company's value chain cannot be done within a corporate sustainability function alone. Among others, it requires that procurement and supply chain teams factor sustainability into purchasing decisions; that product development and R&D consider the environmental impact of what they design; and that finance invest in the people and structures that enable change.

This report highlights three ways in which sustainability can be operationalized throughout an organization. It combines Sustainability Leaders' quantitative research with in-depth interviews to showcase how the ESG agenda can be built into different functions around the business.

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