This is Part Two of an examination of the 10 things a sustainability website should contain, based upon the Network for Business Sustainability’s list of 10 Things New Sustainability Managers Need to Know.
Click here for Part One.
6) How does the company measure its environmental impacts?
This is such a crucial question it’s often overlooked. Every single sector, every single company, will have different environmental, social and sustainability impacts. The current trend towards emissions and water use reporting, while welcome, is little more than a statement of the lowest common denominator.
At it’s heart sustainability is about examining how each individual company can improve its own performance and leave this kind of herd mentality behind. So how does the company measure it’s impact, and what is unique about how it does so?
7) How does our sustainability attract and retain employees?
Another crucial question. Sustainability is often allied to marketing and PR but is rarely linked to human resources. However if sustainability is just as pertinent to a business’ operations as turning a profit, then it should be just as firmly embedded into the business’ recruitment and retention processes.
In all my years looking at corporate sustainability websites I’ve seen only a handful which have linked sustainability to recruitment and retention, and possibly only one which did so in a convincing manner. This is still a growth area and one which any business serious about sustainability should seek to engage in.
8) How does the company mitigate climate change?
On the current science, this is all about emissions, but it’s a little more subtle than that. “Mitigate” implies it is going to happen while most businesses appear to believe it’s all about stopping it from happening.
My personal perspective is that it IS happening and we have to adapt to survive. So what adaptation is your company embarking upon? Emissions reduction could be the least of your problems: perhaps you’re vulnerable to flooding or extreme weather conditions. Have you even thought about these factors, ten or twenty years down the line?
9) What is business sustainability?
A hoary old chestnut, yet one around which there is still a lot of debate. Yet it makes sense that if a business is claiming to be sustainable it should at least define, on its website, what it believes sustainability means. You’d be surprised at how many don’t.
10) What further information is available on sustainability?
As I keep repeating, one of the major challenges of sustainability is for businesses to pull together in common cause rather than fight one another. It’s not uncommon for a business website to point to resources published by NGOs, newspapers, research institutions and trade bodies.
What is uncommon is for a business’ website to point to one of their competitors and say “this is an initiative we aim to follow”. Yet doing so is vital for a corporate website, not just because it fosters collaboration but also because it shows how seriously a business takes sustainability when compared to (say) profit.
It’s clear from this brief tour of what corporate sustainability websites should contain that there are many possible avenues which by and large remain unexplored by mainstream business communications. This is partially because websites tend to fall within the remit of PR and marketing departments whose desire is to give as positive a spin on the company’s performance as possible.
Whilst this is an admirable ambition, it usually shuts off the need for a sustainable company to be transparent in the effects its operations has. Overall, it is this need for transparency which represents the greatest challenge for any sustainable corporate website.