Knowledge Centre

Sustainability is Business: Manage it for VALUE

Sustainability is business and should be managed for value.

Value optimization and efficiency is as important in #CSR, #ESG and #SDG impact as any other area of your business.  Ignore it and you cost your business, society and often your career.

Good businesses prioritize efficiency. So do smart leaders and managers. They’re constantly analyzing, tweaking and optimizing their operations to maximize value, profit and impact.

So where does this fiscal savviness go when it comes to their CSR, ESG and Sustainability?  Unfortunately, it too often goes right out the window.

I once delivered a keynote at a mining event and asked two questions of the audience.

  1. How many had been involved in a mine/mill optimization study discussion in the last six months?
    Every hand went up.
  2. How many had been involved in a CSR value/impact optimization study or discussion in the last two years?
    Not one hand went up.

The point is, most businesses have well developed performance frameworks for people, projects and operations. They optimize value creation across the full range of inputs and variables.  All aimed at driving business profitability and competitive advantage. Managers and leaders know them and work with them constantly.

Yet when it comes to CSR and Sustainability these same executives and managers too often leave sound management practices behind.  Expecting that somehow ESG, CSR and Sustainability budgets, programs and activities will magically produce social and shareholder value and impact, all on their own.  Wouldn’t it be nice if business worked that way?

Too often value and impact are equated to budget. No effort is made to take it further and examine social, business and environmental value and impact, or how it can be optimized.  Value-focused management discipline is mostly absent, even in otherwise well run companies.

Sadly when attention is paid to value, it is mostly to external value, social impact, and environmental stewardship.  With little or no attention to business value.  It is almost as if there is a management taboo against systematically using CSR as a business value driver.

CSR and Sustainability deserve the same management discipline and performance accountability as any other area of business.  And they deserve the same opportunity to contribute to value and competitive advantage.

Value and impact frameworks, along with a value-optimization strategy needs to be in place for CSR the same as it is for other areas of business. Companies are paying for these programs – so they need make sure they are seeing a return on those investments.

Part of this is increasing standards (and understanding) from the top-down. Management rigour needs to be baked in from the onset, with well-designed approaches to planning, measuring and tracking impacts.  Metrics must address business, social and environmental impacts. However, optimization, alignment and synergy must be always be systematically and strategically examined.

Also, it’s time to get rid of the “no skills required” mentality around CSR. Effectively running a CSR and Sustainability unit in a business is very difficult. It takes a complex mix of strong business skills as well as strong community development and communications skills.  It’s a demanding role with many moving parts that need to be managed carefully. Not something to give to Christine or Christopher because they used to work for an NGO.

And yet, too often, I see CSR positions being relegated to untrained amateurs.

These people are often well-intentioned, but they simply lack the key skills required to be effective value-focused business managers. Worse still their organizations often don’t provide a budget for external support and/or training to help them.

I don’t blame the workers—it’s an organization’s responsibility to ensure employees have the necessary skills and support to get the job done. It’s the same as many other areas in companies: Finance, Engineering, and HR all routinely use, and are expected to use, external expertise and support.   CSR and Sustainability are difficult, complex and increasingly important – they aren’t ‘no skills required’ functions.

CSR and Sustainability deserves the same level of management rigour and attention to optimizing value as all other areas of business. They deserve training, professional support and fiscal scrutiny just as much as anything else.

Any less is wasted opportunity, and perhaps even a cause for concern. Budgets are too tight, margins of error too slim, the impact too important and the consequences of underperforming too high.


Prof. Wayne Dunn

Wayne Dunn is an award-winning global sustainability expert with extensive teaching, writing, lecturing and advisory service experience. He is supported by an extensive faculty and advisory team.