Six Insights to Advance your Corporate Sustainability Strategy

Sarah Ng, Manager, Corporate Communications, ICTI Ethical Toy Program

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet many passionate CSR professionals during the Responsible Business Summit Asia 2016 in Singapore, of which ICTI Ethical Toy Program is a promotional partner, and saw our CEO, Carmel Giblin speak on two panels. The theme for the first day was 'Business Strategy and Supplier Collaboration' and the second day was 'Stakeholder Engagement and Business Strategy'.

As we can see from the title of the themes, the emerging trend nowadays is moving from philanthropy towards creating shared value (CSV), and developing a business strategy that incorporates corporate social responsibility, sustainability, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the daily operations of a business.

Industry experts from AkzoNobel, BASF, Levi Strauss & Co, Adidas Group, Syngenta, The Body Shop, ICTI Ethical Toy Program, and Huawei shared their learning journeys with many great examples illustrating how companies can engage internal staff, suppliers, and establish partnerships with multi-stakeholders (even competitors) to create shared value for all.

If you are not familiar with the term shared value, here’s a simple definition: 'shared value is a management strategy focused on companies creating measurable business value by identifying and addressing social problems that intersect with their business. The shared value framework creates new opportunities for companies, civil society organizations, and governments to leverage the power of market-based competition in addressing social problems'.

CSV appears to generate lots of opportunities, but what I’ve found during the Q&A sessions and the conversations between some practitioners was that although a lot of businesses have great intentions and lofty goals to further develop their own sustainability strategies, many are uncertain of where to start.

Here're six questions to ask yourself when you begin your thinking process:


1) What does your company do best?

This point is very simple but easily neglected by other areas that seem more fun or trendy; knowing what you do best means you can utilize your talents to create the best value in the space. For example, a dining enterprise can work with employees to look at core areas of their business such as circular economy, food waste, sustainable seafood etc. instead of having their staff create a Food Waste App that seems cool and cutting-edge but doesn't address the core issues as effectively.


2) What are your priorities?

Find a few initiatives that fit your company’s strengths and values, and then compare them to your vision and mission to see which of them matches best with your operational priorities; in doing this you will not interrupt the overall business strategy, instead, leveraging your strategy to become solutions to social problems.  


3) Have you spoken with your stakeholders? 

When you have done some initial thinking regarding the area you want to focus on, invite your key stakeholders to share their thoughts. This can be done through a quick workshop or on-line survey. Stakeholder engagement is the key to any sustainability program. They can provide valuable and candid feedback and let you get a sense which of the proposed projects would receive greater support both internally and externally. Those who show interest to participate further may be your targeted influencers when developing and implementing the projects.


4) Who else would also be interested?

Look into the industry, gather professionals who are also passionate about a mutual area. When like-minded businesses facilitate an industry-wide platform, they have the potential to better the entire industry, which is to everyone's benefit. An example would be the initiative 'Together for Sustainability', where six multinational chemical companies came together to develop and require a single code of conduct for their suppliers.


5) Whom can I learn from?

We all understand it’s hard to start from scratch, so we advise reaching out to experienced businesses through Sustainability Conferences, and subscribing to industry leading initiatives (click for examples in ChemicalToysElectronic industries) and global leading organizations (e.g. UN Global Compact and International Labour Organization) to seek best practices and learn from their sustainability journey.

From all these resources above you may also find prospects to form a partnership, each organization should focus on what they do best and multiply the potential impact through collaborations. 


6) Once I have a program, what’s next?  

First of all, congratulations on completing the development stage! Education is now the key to the success of your program. Tell your multiple stakeholders why you are doing this, and explain the benefits it brings and your expectations.

For example, in the toy industry we notice suppliers may act purely out of requirements from buyers; therefore, during our capability building programs, we teach them the reasons behind these requests for ethical manufacturing practices and the benefits they bring with best practice tips they can implement. Once suppliers understand the advantages ethical manufacturing brings them, they become self-motivated to meet buyers' requests. 


'Sustainability is a learning journey', I’ve heard this line repeated in a few conferences I’ve attended in Asia. Hopefully these six questions have given you a snapshot of the journey, and provided great ideas of where to start!