SUSTAINABILITY Thoughtful male person looking to the digital tablet screen laptop screenSilhouette and filter sun

By Kelly Myers, Senior Director of Responsible Business & National Programs at Elior North America

For today’s businesses, the concept of social and environmental responsibility has evolved beyond being merely a moral imperative. It has become an integral aspect of any organization’s strategic planning. As C-suites embark on their journey of social and environmental responsibility (SER) planning ahead of the new year, here are a few key elements to consider.

Align SER with your corporate strategy

Social and environmental responsibility should not be viewed as an isolated function within your organization. Instead, it should be seamlessly integrated into your overall corporate strategy with shared ownership across the board. When SER aligns with your core values and long-term objectives, it becomes more than just a buzzword — it becomes a driver of innovation and a catalyst for growth. Engage your executive leaders in defining how SER aligns with your company’s vision, mission, and strategic goals. It’s important to understand not only what the criteria are, but how you plan to track and report the progress to key stakeholders.

Embrace transparency

Transparency is paramount when it comes to SER planning. Your stakeholders, from customers to investors, expect and appreciate a clear and honest account of your environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance. Be prepared to disclose your sustainability goals, progress, and any challenges you face. An open and authentic approach to SER builds trust and credibility, both of which are essential for long-term success. Understand your scope, how you’re going to be perceived in the marketplace, and how to establish, maintain, and grow that trust with every stakeholder from employees to clients and customers to the general public.

Leverage technology for data collection and analysis

The data landscape is vast and complex, and managing it efficiently is a cornerstone of SER planning. Make sure you have the right data collection and analysis tools to measure and monitor your ESG performance. These insights will guide your decision-making process and enable you to set realistic goals. Using the right resources is important — consider an overall audit or third-party assessment early on. This is going to identify the improvement areas to prioritize. Then ask yourself, “Where do we have a lot of room to grow?” and “What kind of lift is this going to be?” If this is something that hasn’t been previously built into your overall success structure or programming, understand that it could be a difficult job for the existing team, and you may need to outsource or invest in allocating more resources toward the planning of the overall SER platform.

Engage your entire organization

Your team members are your most valuable assets when it comes to SER planning. Engage them by fostering a culture of responsibility and sustainability. Their insights and commitment are instrumental in implementing and achieving SER goals. Encourage team members to participate in sustainability initiatives and recognize and reward their efforts. Involve as many people as you can as you establish ownership within the organization. Identify where you’re going to divide and conquer and involve everyone from the beginning so that it’s not just the SER department’s goal — it’s truly priorities that are embedded into the foundation of the organization. 

Collaborate with external partners

Collaboration is key to SER success. Partner with organizations, both in your industry and beyond, to exchange knowledge and best practices. You aren’t expected to know everything right off the bat, so external partnerships can provide access to resources, networks, and expertise that can help shape and accelerate your sustainability efforts. Be open to learning from others and sharing your own experiences to collectively drive positive change. For example, when it comes to a complex challenge like improving animal welfare in the food system, the food industry has seen a “coming together” moment among the whole community to figure out the problem. A lot of collaboration is happening right now to level-set sustainability, and we’re all responsible for driving it forward. 

Plan for investment

Incorporating sustainable and ethical practices often requires an initial investment. SER teams should allocate resources strategically to support SER initiatives, understanding that long-term benefits can outweigh the upfront costs. Once you’ve identified all the criteria, you might need to do some updates to your tracking systems, which can take a lot of research, manpower, money, and time. Understand that the longer you wait, the further behind you fall in that space. 

Stay informed and adaptive

SER planning is not a one-size-fits-all process, and it is an ever-changing landscape. It evolves continuously in response to global challenges, regulatory changes, and shifting consumer preferences. It is critical to always understand and consider where your ingredients come from, how they’re raised or produced, and how that’s impacting the environment, so those leading the charge should stay informed about the latest trends and developments in the field of sustainability. Be adaptive and willing to adjust your strategies as needed to stay true to your goals and stay ahead of the curve. 

Measure impact, not just efforts

While setting targets and initiatives is essential, measuring and explaining the actual impact of your SER efforts is equally crucial. Leaders should focus on meaningful metrics that quantify the social, environmental, and economic outcomes of their initiatives. Understand that it’s not just about doing more; it’s about doing better. Continuity and ownership are critical; if an initiative is important today, it needs to be important every day from here on out.

Champion diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) are integral components of SER. A diverse and inclusive workforce fosters innovation, helps to address social inequalities, and aligns with ethical values. Executives should champion DEIB not only within their organizations but also throughout their supply chains and business ecosystems. Understand how SER planning impacts every area of your organization, and how driving a culture of belonging helps retain great people who will continue to improve the company in every way across the board and in every corner. 

In conclusion, SER planning is a journey that requires commitment, collaboration, and a willingness to adapt. By aligning SER with your corporate strategy, embracing transparency, engaging your whole organization, collaborating with external partners, planning for investment, staying informed and adaptive, measuring impact, and championing DEIB, business executives can lead their organizations toward a more sustainable and responsible future. At Elior North America, we’ve seen firsthand the positive outcomes of integrating SER into our core business practices, and we are committed to sharing our experiences and knowledge to inspire others on their journey toward a more responsible and sustainable future. Prepare to evolve, even if you’re just starting out — things change every day, sometimes within a day, so embrace that change and no matter what, just keep moving forward. 

Kelly Myers is the Senior Director of Responsible Business & National Programs at Elior North America.



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