Focus on your core business for real green impact

By Myra Hendriks

Focus on your core activities to realize real sustainable impact. That is our advice for companies and organizations that want to translate their strategic ambitions in the field of sustainability into concrete actions.

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The climate crisis underlines that the current economic model of infinite growth has never been sustainable. Under pressure of increasingly strict (inter)national legislation, companies are forced to work on a smaller ecological footprint. Public opinion is also increasing pressure on companies and organizations to invest in less waste, greener production methods and better working conditions.

Sustainability ambitions

In 2015, the United Nations introduced 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as a framework for a more sustainable future. These sustainability goals focus, among other things, on a green economy, clean water and sanitation, education, universal health care and poverty eradication.

More and more organizations are formulating their own sustainability ambitions based on these SDGs, explains sustainability consultant Myra Hendriks. 'For example, they set themselves the goal of reducing their waste streams, their emissions and/or cooperating more efficiently within the chain. Experience shows that in doing so, you generally achieve the biggest impact by focusing on your core activities.'

Green impact

Sustainability consultant Simone Thien gives the example of an assignment that Highberg recently carried out for a national public transport organization. 'Equipment now lasts longer thanks to smarter maintenance and therefore a longer life cycle. As a result, fewer new trains need to be purchased and there are also fewer breakdowns.'

'In short, these interventions in the company's core business - transporting people and goods by train - provide an enormous green impact. Thereby, this project fits within SDG 1, aimed at sustainable production and consumption.'

Improve performance

Myra Hendriks gives a similar example from her own practice. 'This case involved an organization active in city and regional transport, with its own maintenance department. Vehicles that are in the depot are obviously not in use. And that effect becomes greater the more vehicles waiting for maintenance. Apart from the costs, this is also undesirable from a sustainability point of view. Together with the client, we therefore looked at how processes could be designed more efficiently. How can performance be further improved?

The maintenance of the vehicles is now going much better, Hendriks outlines. 'A large number of relatively small changes - such as a different design of the work process - has led to a more efficient process. As a result, there are now more seats for passengers and fewer new vehicles need to be purchased in the future. This saves many tens of millions of euros and leads to savings in materials and energy consumption. Better for the environment and cost-effective'

Shorter turnaround time and less debt

Many organizations are also formulating clear ambitions from a social perspective to improve the well-being of their customers. Sustainability goes beyond the environment alone. For example, Highberg recently worked with a large Dutch municipality on improving the performance of the municipal office for debt counseling, explains Simone Thien. Employees complained about high work pressure, and staff changes meant that there was often no continuity. The turnaround time of a debt counseling process was therefore very long. With a targeted change program, we helped to improve the service. The processing time has been greatly reduced, and there is a better collaboration between the debt desk and creditors.'

Citizens with debts are now better served and also build up less debt, Thien states. 'Very concrete impact, directly linked to the core activity of a municipality: improving the lives of citizens. This project can also be directly linked to the SDGs; think of SDG 1 - aimed at eliminating poverty - and SDG 3, aimed at promoting good health and well-being.'

Concrete changes

Be aware that actually realizing your sustainability ambitions in practice is not that easy, Hendriks emphasizes. Ultimately, the success of any sustainability goal stands or falls with the degree to which you manage to translate it into concrete changes in leadership, mindset and behavior. You can formulate such great ambitions in the boardroom, but ultimately you will have to take your strategic ambitions to the shop floor.

Internal target groups

Often organizations are still searching for the approach, Thien notices. 'We want to get there, to that ambitious goal, but how do we get there? Highberg often helps organizations in giving concrete shape to that change issue. 'We think along with you about how best to reach your internal target groups. For example, we are currently helping an airline company to become more sustainable. It is important to think carefully about what your internal target groups find important and what motivates them. After all, a pilot will be motivated by different things than ground crew, for example.'

The needs for each target group are then translated into concrete behavioral interventions, Thien outlines. 'Through gamification, among other things, we ensure that employees actually embrace that change. We use game elements to get teams to think about the higher sustainability goal. And about what it specifically means for their daily work.'

How does this help your organization's performance?

In short, ensure a good link between your sustainability goals and your core activities, Hendriks stresses again. By translating your ambitions into concrete behaviors and actively involving people in your sustainability plans, you will have a much better chance of actually initiating the necessary change. In doing so, it is advisable to connect to the core activities of your organization, because only then you can achieve the greatest impact.

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