The second meeting of Forum Strategy’s #TrustLeaders strategic group on Environmental Sustainability took place on 23 March. The session was chaired by Rachael Gacs, with contributions from Andy Brown, Head of Sustainability at Anglian Water, Jessica Long, Head of Sustainability at Ipsos MORI, and CSR experts Alex Bell and Mark Topley. The group is one of three currently looking at key strategic issues for CEOs. The summary of this event was written by Rachael Gacs.
Developing and implementing an environmental sustainability strategy across a large organisation
Andy Brown, who has been Head of Sustainability at Anglian Water for seven years, and has worked in the field of sustainability for over 20 years, opened the session with a presentation focussed on developing and implementing an environmental sustainability strategy across a large organisation. Andy shared how Anglian Water’s sustainability strategy had been developed, and what he had learned along the way, and shared advice with trust leaders hoping to develop a sustainability strategy of their own.
“Sustainability should… allow your trust to save money in the long term… reduce your risk, increase the resilience of your organisation, and attract talented young education professionals keen to be part of an environmentally responsible organisation.”
While acknowledging that every organisation will approach sustainability differently, he shared his hope that many aspects of how Anglian Water’s sustainability strategy has been developed could be transferable and useful to academy trusts as large organisations in their own right. He emphasised that while embedding environmental sustainability within organisations is of course the right and moral thing to do, it is not something that should cause additional burdens to your organisation if it is done right, and can have a wide range of benefits. He explained that while improving sustainability may take some financial investment in the short term, sustainability should not only allow your trust to save money in the long term, but also reduce your risk, increase the resilience of your organisation, and attract talented young education professionals keen to be part of an environmentally responsible organisation. In fact, academic research shows that organisations that prioritise sustainability are the most likely to succeed long term.
Andy emphasised that in today’s world sustainability needs to move from being on the fringes of what we do as organisations, to being right at the heart of what we do, and considered in each decision we make. It can seem like an intimidating area to address as it is such a huge subject, so in the first instance it’s important to clarify what it is most important for your organisation to focus on, with consideration of what will benefit your pupils and communities most. Identifying long term aspirations and goals is key, and Andy recommended using the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) as a useful tool in doing so.
“Sustainability needs to move from being on the fringes of what we do as organisations, to being right at the heart of what we do, and considered in each decision we make.”
Using these goals, and the targets which go along with them, you can pinpoint which are most relevant to your trust, and use these to develop the details of your sustainability strategy. After aspirations and goals are set, Andy suggested building an ‘action plan’, which outlines the practical steps your trust will take to meet those long-term goals, including who is going to own and deliver each aspect, how they are going to be funded, and how progress will be monitored and reported. Monitoring and communicating progress is key in order to keep the people within your organisations and communities informed about what your sustainability commitment entails, how you’re driving it forward, how you are making a difference, and what the benefits that come from it are.
Making sustainability a key part of your vision, values and purpose is also important, as it sets the culture within your organisation, and makes it clear that ‘this is something we need to deliver’. This will help everyone within the organisation to buy into the sustainability strategy, as well as sending the clear message to all stakeholders that your trust is absolutely committed to making environmental sustainability a priority. Andy explained that it is crucial that everyone within the organisation understands this, and also understands how they can contribute to those overall sustainability goals, because sustainability needs to be delivered at every level, not just by the central team.
“Feedback from pupils can be used to feed into your overall strategy, giving your young people a sense of responsibility and ownership of the sustainability strategy.”
Of course, some people will have a much greater impact in this area than others, but everyone can be supported to help embed sustainability into their roles to some extent, and workshops, professional development, target setting, and performance management can all be used to enable this. Pupils should also feel included and play a role in co-creating your sustainability strategy, for example, through pupil-led sustainability groups or eco-councils. Feedback from pupils can be used to feed into your overall strategy, giving your young people a sense of responsibility and ownership of the sustainability strategy.
What do young people expect from us, and how can we deliver?
Next the group was joined by Jessica Long from Ipsos MORI, whose presentation on what young people expect from organisations and leaders in regards to environmental sustainability brought our ‘why’ into sharp focus. Jessica shared information gathered from Ipsos MORI which reflected just how much of a key issue environmental sustainability is for the young people that academy trusts serve. Over the past year concern over climate change and environmental issues has continued to rise, with many young people seeing the Covid-19 pandemic as directly linked to misuse of the environment. However, statistics show that young people are struggling to put their values into practice, and want leaders and organisations to do more to lead the way.
“Young people want leaders and organisations to do the necessary work which will allow them to make sustainable choices more easily. They also want to be supported to make more informed decisions.”
What is clear from the statistics is that many young people feel powerless when they feel that the onus is on them, and they don’t see the organisations, businesses, industry, government and leaders around them taking clear action. Young people want leaders and organisations to do the necessary work which will allow them to make sustainable choices more easily. They also want to be supported to make more informed decisions, as many feel confused about what they can actually do, on a practical level, to take action and make decisions that will make a positive difference. Young people are more likely to feel motivated to make sustainable choices that are in line with their priorities and values when:
- they feel informed;
- they see leaders and organisations around them taking action and leading the way;
- when the systems and the environments around them make it easier to take environmentally friendly actions (even something as simple as providing recycling bins which are easily accessible).
Academy trusts are in a very good (perhaps even a unique) position to support young people in each of these ways, and this emphasises just how important it is for academy trusts to prioritise environmental sustainability, and put the systems and strategies in place which the young people that they serve both want – and expect – from them. Jessica concluded that in the process of trying to become an environmentally sustainable organisation it is ok to make mistakes along the way, so long as you are transparent, learn from mistakes, and endeavour to respond to them in a solution focussed manner.
Embedding environmental sustainability at every level of your organisation
The session’s final input came from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) experts Alex Bell and Mark Topley from Wider Purpose. Mark began the presentation explaining that the challenge of embedding sustainability within an organisation can often lie with good intentions translating into a lacklustre reality. He explained that this can be avoided by having a corporate social responsibility strategy, and shared a quote from Elizabeth King illustrating the importance of having clear strategy; “process saves us from the poverty of our intentions”. Having a corporate social responsibility strategy is a way to provide structure to aspiration, and Mark and Alex explained that they have developed a programme which aims to provide this structure through developing middle leaders in academy trusts, known as CSR champions, who can lead specifically on sustainability and corporate social responsibility projects in a way that leads to genuine and long-term transformational change.
“Process saves us from the poverty of our intentions.”
Alex emphasised that academy trusts are in a strong position to do really meaningful and impactful work around important issues such as environmental sustainability, and that developing CSR champions who are specifically focused on the wider purpose of social responsibility is a practical way to achieve this. CSR champions are supported to engage in projects that make a real and sustainable difference on issues such as environmental sustainability, within their academy trust, and also in the wider local community, in a way that forges positive links with the local community. It is a way of developing strong middle leaders in a way that also allows academy trusts to put their core values into practice. It also provides opportunity to ensure that environmental sustainability strategy is not just something that ‘comes from above’, or just happens within the central team, but is embedded at every level within academy trusts. For more information on developing CSR champions you can download Alex and Mark’s White Paper: World Changing Leaders for Education | Wider Purpose
- Environmental sustainability can no longer be kept on the fringes, but needs to have a place at the heart of your trust.
- Young people expect environmental sustainability to be a priority for the leaders and organisations which matter to them, and expect them to lead the way on environmental sustainability, as well as educating them to make informed decisions in this area.
- Environmental sustainability can’t just be about having good intentions anymore; it needs to be translated into a tangible strategy, with clear targets, action plans, and monitoring and reporting of progress to stakeholders.
- Environmental sustainability should hold a key place in your mission, vision and values, and colleagues and pupils need to feel like they play a genuine role both in influencing, and helping to enact, your sustainability strategy.
- It’s ok to make mistakes along the way when developing and implementing your sustainability strategy, as long as your academy trust is transparent, learns from mistakes, and endeavours to respond to them in a solution focussed manner.
- Environmental sustainability strategy should not just come ‘from above’, or be limited to the central team, but such permeate every level of your trust. One way of making this happen is by developing Corporate Social Responsibility leaders, who can take responsibility for leading on environmental sustainability projects within your trust.
You can download the slides from the session by clicking the button below.
Find out more about the two other current CEO Strategy Groups here:
- CEO Strategy Group 3 – Environmental Sustainability | Forum Strategy
- CEO Strategy Group 1 – Staff and pupil wellbeing