Rewriting the Sustainability Playbook to Integrate Social and Environmental Agendas

Our planetary systems are in crisis. From climate change and biodiversity loss to poverty and inequality, transformative action is needed urgently on pervasive environmental and social issues. These are areas that are inherently connected – degrading ecosystems result in more extreme weather, which devastates livelihoods with a compounding effect on the most vulnerable communities. And yet, there is a tendency for corporations to simplify complex challenges by breaking them down into separate, smaller issues. While this might be easier for reporting, it is a limiting approach that fails to realise the full potential of corporate sustainability efforts.

For scalable, lasting change, we cannot continue to address environmental and social issues in isolation. We need greater integration. And we know it can be done but there hasn’t been a roadmap to show how it might be possible.

This is why Mars and IDH partnered with Forum for the Future to commission research that explores how companies can better integrate environmental and social agendas.

Published today, Integrating Social and Environmental Sustainability: A practical playbook to drive impact and unlock business benefitsReport: Integrating Social and Environmental Sustainability Explore how Mars and IDH partnered with Forum for the Future to commission research that explores how companies can better integrate environmental and social agendas.
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 found that most companies are managing these agendas in isolation. It also provides evidence to show that social action can unlock environmental impact, further illustrating the value of an interconnected approach.

Most importantly, the report also presents six key recommendations to help organizations move from conventional, isolated strategies to an integrated (and more effective) method. These recommendations include:

  1. Unlock strategic synergies: Identify the synergies between business and sustainability strategies and establish systems which demystify sustainability and trigger new ideas.
  2. Restructure to integrate: Utilize business structure as a provocation, at board level and by establishing connective internal roles.
  3. Leverage formal processes: Employ incentive structures that ensure employees see sustainability as integrated and fundamental to their role and what counts as success.
  4. Show visionary leadership: Leaders must accept a new role in a changing world – acting with courage and building skills to see the connections between business, society and environment.
  5. Create a collaboration culture: Unlock a culture of interconnectedness through a deeper understanding of company culture and creating the conditions for true collaboration.
  6. Leverage informal power: Critically reflect on the nature of decision-making throughout the organisation to challenge how priorities are siloed and how decisions around this are influenced.

It is a daunting task to rewrite a playbook we’ve used for decades. But if we aspire to unlock transformative change, we must create solutions that recognise and leverage the interconnected nature of the sustainability challenges we hope to overcome.

We commissioned this research to inform our own approach but are sharing it across the industry to inspire deeper thinking and greater action. We invite you to engage with the report and hope it motivates you to set out on your own journey to find more integrated solutions. And if you have questions or ideas, we invite you to reach out. We must learn from and work together to fundamentally reorient business to better serve people, planet and prosperity.

Read the full report here

We are witnessing our climate and natural world undergo widespread changes. These increasingly severe, frequent and widespread shifts are exacerbating and being exacerbated by social issues such as poverty, gender inequity, poor nutrition and global inequality. Our environmental and social challenges are both interconnected and complex, and there is a need to respond to them by raising the ambition of our work in sustainability, and integrating environmental and social considerations into everything we do. This report is intended to help make this integration a reality

Dr Sally Uren, Forum for the Future’s Chief Executive

In the face of interconnected global crises, a fragmented approach to sustainability and human rights is often inefficient and not wide-reaching enough to create enough impact and achieve market transformation goals. At IDH, we believe that an integrated agenda can accelerate individual company action, and linked partnerships can transform individual islands of success into collective solutions that can create impact at scale. We hope this report provides a practical guide to help companies start that journey.

Ruchira Joshi, Global Director – Agricommodities, IDH

In order to make progress and tackle environmental and social challenges, we must embed sustainability into our strategy and way of doing business. We must help executives, employees and informed consumers understand why and how it’s important to develop socially and economically while reducing impacts on the natural environment. At Mars, we recognize there is so much more to be done, but the world can’t wait. We must push for progress and accelerate action to better integrate our climate and social strategies and impacts.

Lisa Manley, Global Vice President of Sustainability, Mars