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Taking sustainability vision into real action

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Strategic efforts in relation to environmental, social and governmental standards, which are designed to be rolled out at operational level, are seldom without challenges. Credit: SRK

Taking sustainability vision into real action

Increasingly stringent best practice standards, especially in fields such as water stewardship, are driving multinational corporations to apply new benchmarks across their global operations.

By Darryll Kilian and Tamaryn Hale

These strategic efforts are laudable and often vital but can be challenging to implement at operational sites for a variety of reasons. Therefore, alignment and support are crucial for corporate vision to become a reality on the ground.

There is no doubt that rising standards for corporate performance are placing significant pressure on multinationals and even smaller private sector players to constantly raise their game. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters. Companies must not only keep a close eye on changing requirements but must understand how their operations should best respond.

The range of compliance and regulatory pressure comes from various sources, including in-country legislation and the best practice guidelines developed by representative bodies in their sectors. Increasingly, the pressure is also coming from financial institutions, who themselves are looking ahead at their own sustainability trajectories and targets. Any business that engages with public stock exchanges, ratings agencies or financial markets cannot avoid the intense and growing scrutiny of its ESG performance.

In our work as a global network of consulting engineers and scientists, we interact with clients who embrace these complex requirements and look for ways to hone their corporate performance in line with these demands. It is often our client’s head office – indeed, even the board of directors itself – that initiates and drives these strategic efforts, which are designed to be rolled out at operational level to ensure a uniform standard across the group.

Such roll-outs, however, are seldom without challenges – and a strong alignment between the corporate vision and the operations’ daily concerns is essential to overcoming the practical hurdles of implementation. Large companies struggle to turn visionary ambitions into action if head office is not fully cognisant of the day-to-day frustrations of their on-site staff, or if their operations are not on board with headquarters’ plans.

Demonstrating a commitment to sustainability (Taking sustainability vision into real action)

Our work in the field of water stewardship, for example, can illustrate why the success that companies achieve in implementing change can meet with such variable rates of success. To demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, many multinationals have pursued water management objectives through certification from bodies like the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS).

Our credentialed scientists – who have the necessary training and recognition to guide clients through the AWS process – experience a profound difference between many clients. The directive to pursue the water stewardship journey is frequently initiated from the highest levels, and it is expected that these policies are applied at operational or site level. The challenges appear when site personnel have what may be considered more pressing imperatives, or indeed may not have the capacity to follow through.

The uncertain economic times – with erratic and unpredictable growth patterns – may even be exacerbating this situation. Sectors such as mining, agriculture and industry are performing differently depending on global demand, but in many cases human resources are stretched – especially in regions like Africa where skills can be scarce.

In locations where basic services like electricity and water cannot be taken for granted, operations are often more intensely focused on the basics of production. Extensive time and energy are therefore devoted to addressing a range of daily risks to operational continuity.

Looking beyond these basics – as every far-sighted and responsible corporate player must do – takes considerable planning and resource management, especially when continuous improvement is the goal.

In the case of water stewardship, the aim is to assist companies to consider not just their internal water needs but the full life-cycle of the water they rely upon for commercial success. This includes understanding the needs and contribution of other stakeholders in their catchment area and engaging to ensure positive outcomes for all.

Where corporate leaders embrace the sustainability value of water stewardship, this is to be welcomed and supported. A critical next step is to ensure that the business itself is able to communicate these priorities through its ranks, so that everyone shares an appreciation of the goal. This is really about company culture, which can take years or decades to develop. Then there is the question of capacity at the implementation end of these initiatives. Where a business is looking to make changes for the better, it will invariably need to invest resources and expertise so the work is effectively carried out.

Consultants like SRK are equipped with the specialised experience and insights to identify the gaps that clients need to address so they can become better stewards of their water resources. What clients need to also ensure is that their own operations are well resourced to apply these important benchmarks, and that staff at all levels embrace the corporate commitment to sustainability.

Tamaryn Hale is Senior Environmental Scientist at SRK Consulting and Darryll Kilian is a partner and principal environmental consultant at SRK Consulting

Taking sustainability vision into real action

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 Taking sustainability vision into real action



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AgricultureEnvironmental Management & Climate ChangeEnergyESGInfrastructureMiningPolitical EconomyTourism and ConservationWater Management