Three pillars: from sustainability ambitions to sustainable results

Why 'change management' is essential for your sustainable ambitions

Verandermanagement is essentieel voor uw duurzame ambities
  • Blog
  • 17 Jul 2023

More and more companies are defining ambitious sustainability strategies and targets. A clear change management approach is essential to bridge the gap between merely having a sustainability strategy in place and successfully transforming your business towards a sustainable business model and culture, argue Puck Isfordink and Valentina Tan.

Defining a strategy is one thing, delivering on it is another

We've often heard the famous quote of management consultant and writer Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Sustainability strategies are no exception to this rule. A recent survey conducted by Strategy& showed "84% of respondents say cultural change is vital for sustainability transformations to succeed"

If employees’ values and behaviors do not align with your sustainability strategy, then real change will fail to come. After all, your sustainability transformation cannot be sustainable if the entire organisation does not embrace it and take ownership for it.

From what to how, from talking to walking and from PowerPoint slides to the workplace

That leaves us with the question of how to get everyone on board. Since the key to success is a change in behavior, the practice of change management provides useful insights when faced with the opportunities and challenges of a sustainability transformation. A structured change management approach can help an organisation go from thinking to doing. Remember, it's as much about sustainability as it is about transformation.

Focusing on what matters, through action

To focus your change management efforts on the things that matter most, we look at three pillars: ‘engage me’, ‘equip me’ and ‘empower me’. We'll give you a whistle stop tour of what each pillar means here and then dive deeper into each pillar in the following blog series. It's good to note that these three pillars are not sequential but are revisited and reinforced throughout your sustainability transformation – and the starting point will be different for all, based on the maturity of your sustainability journey.

Figure: The three pillars of change management for sustainability transformations

‘Engage me’ is about taking your employees along on your sustainability journey. A key starting point is involving employees in the process rather than simply thrusting change upon them. You can do this through workshops on strategic sustainability priorities, using the brainpower of your organisation. Internal communication is also key to actively share your sustainability vision, approach and progress.

Don’t be afraid to get creative here to get people excited and involved, by moving away from emails and exploring concepts like gamification and nudging. At PwC we developed a virtual experience, the SDG Dome, where employees were inspired to think about sustainability, what it means to them and the impact that their decisions make.

‘Equip me’ relates to supplying the knowledge and skills needed to increase employees’ ability to bring sustainability to life in their day-to-day work. Think practical tools your employees need in order to know how they need to change. Sustainability transformations often bring the need for reskilling certain functions or roles, to prepare them for contributing to your sustainability goals.

For this you can establish a sustainability upskilling program that provides the practical knowledge your employees need to incorporate sustainability in their roles. For instance, clients we are working with train their Finance teams on the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) requirements to ensure they can adhere to this upcoming regulation.

‘Empower me’ allows employees to ‘own’ the change and gives them the mandate to bring sustainability to life in their role. Leadership credibility, role modelling and guidance is a key ingredient for this. To get there, interactive leadership sessions can help to increase awareness around their role and its importance. After this, you need to activate leaders to share a clear tone from the top through, for example, roadshows or recurring team updates. Lastly, as part of this pillar it is important to celebrate success as well as reward exemplary behaviour, for example by establishing a ‘sustainability champion of the month’ award.

Here are some tips to get you started

We understand that change of this magnitude isn't easy but getting started is key. So here are a few important tips to lay the foundations for your change management journey and set you up for success:

  • Start with leadership to drive your sustainability strategy
    The age-old change management rule to engage leaders first to highlight that they support and commit to the transformation still stands but is even more critical when it comes to sustainability due to the larger emphasis on leadership role modelling. After all, when it comes to sustainability people are (rightfully) more critical whether leaders are genuine and credible instead of simply ‘greenwashing’.

    The key is to ensure that your leadership team (1) is aware of and commits to your sustainability goals, (2) understands how they should drive this forward in their respective business functions to deliver on these goals and (3) are incentivised to succeed in achieving these goals.
  • Leverage your organisation's network of sustainability enthusiasts
    Sustainability enthusiasts are the ones who are already intrinsically motivated to bring your sustainability transformation to life. They're your ambassadors who can promote a sustainability culture. This group is likely to be engaged in the topic outside your organisation, meaning they are well-informed and intrinsically motivated. Your sustainability enthusiasts will amplify your message with passion and give you feedback on your approach because they believe in the cause. Focus on arming this group with the right tools and proper incentives to be your voice for the change and bring the masses along.
  • Break your transformation into bite size chunks
    Avoid wanting to change into a fully sustainable organisation overnight. For change to stick, factor in a realistic pace of change for your organisation. Neglecting this could result in change resistance, which in turn could set you back farther than where you started. Adding to this, the conversation and research as well as the regulatory environment surrounding sustainability continues to evolve and grow.

    As such, gradual change is required to transform to a true sustainability-led culture, progressively adopting improved approaches and applying new innovations. Take a more iterative approach to save time wasted on replanning due to external changes. Start with a pilot and then test, listen and learn to get a feel for how the organisation responds.
  • Create partnerships to work towards shared goals
    If we want to create lasting social and environmental impact and successfully navigate through the complexity of sustainability, individual organisations cannot do it alone. Through communities, conferences and other networking opportunities, we can learn from each other and work together to identify solutions that benefit the many.

    Joining forces with partners supports a more holistic change across your ecosystem and inspires others to do the same, thus creating broader impact and a long-lasting transformation that sticks. Consider working with companies in your supply chain both up- and downstream to share your goals, learnings and inspire each other. Here the whole is truly greater than the sum of the parts.

Time to get started!

And remember, you're not seeking perfection but progress. Don't let the desire for perfection get in the way of getting started and learning by doing in your journey towards a more sustainable business.

Contact us

Puck Isfordink

Puck Isfordink

Senior Manager, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)61 208 90 20

Valentina Tan

Valentina Tan

Senior Manager, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)68 302 05 72

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