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Setting sustainability goals

By 15th June 2017 Blog, CSR, Sustainability No Comments
Sat nav with dropped pin-min (1)

“You have reached your destination”. Or have you? When you’re setting sustainability goals, you need to know both where you’re starting from and where you want to get to.

When you first start getting into sustainability (and other aspects of CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility) it’s exciting and really easy to get carried away setting all sorts of aspirational goals and targets. We’ve posted about this topic before here very recently, where we pointed out that sustainability targets should make a difference – that is to say that they need to actually result in a positive change, otherwise, what’s the point?

This time, we wanted to focus a little more on the journey itself.

Where are you now?

If you were considering going on a journey right now, and you asked a friend or colleague for advice on how to complete that journey successfully, the first thing they’d need to understand is where you intended to set off from because that can be a determining factor in what route to choose. For example, how you get to London by road will depend very much on whether you’re departing from Liverpool, Nottingham or Southampton.

It’s the same when you’re setting sustainability goals if you’re going to focus on outcomes, rather than outputs, because you need a way of keeping track of your progress.

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it

Peter Drucker

So, before you even begin to think about what you’re going to try and accomplish, you need to perform some sort of ‘situation analysis’ first to create a benchmark against which future progress can be measured.

What’s your intended destination?

Once you’ve taken stock of your existing performance, you can start to determine what things you’d like to change in order to make a difference. You might, for example, decide that you want to send less waste to landfill, or consume less electricity, curb CO2 emissions, or cut back on resource consumption.

This is the destination you’re aiming to reach on your journey – remembering that such goals and targets should always be SMART:


There’s no point setting out to reach an unreachable destination. If you don’t have the resources to fly to the moon, for example, then there isn’t a lot to be gained from saying that’s where you’re going. It’s better to set off on a journey you can actually complete – you can always go on another journey afterwards.

Choosing the right route

With the departure point and destination decided, you can now start to plot the route you’re going to use to get there.

However, there will be a range of alternatives to choose from, a bit like when you programme your sat nav in the car or on your smartphone and it first of all evaluates dozens (if not hundreds) of variations and then presents you with two or three to consider. In generating these proposals, your sat nav will take into account your pre-set choices: avoid toll roads and ferry services, stick to motorways and dual-carriageways wherever possible, choose the fastest not shortest route etc.

It’s the same when you’re setting sustainability goals and thinking about how you will achieve them. So, let’s say that you decide you want to send less waste to landfill, you could (1) start a recycling programme; (2) embark on a waste minimisation drive; or (3) do both together. Whichever you choose, you’ll still reach your chosen destination.

When selecting the right route for you, think about how quickly you want to get there, if you have the resources to complete the journey (and, if not, can you acquire them), and how much you want to achieve over what timescale. Basically, don’t bite off more than you can chew!

Staying on route

When you’re travelling somewhere, how do you know you’re making progress and staying on the chosen route?

If you’re using sat nav, it’ll keep you on the right course, adapting as you go to any unexpected deviations. If you’re doing a journey you repeat often, where you’re not reliant on gadgets to get you there, you’ll know you’re going the right way because you’ll have a series of signs and markers to guide you – you’ll know to turn left at the Queen Vic, or turn right just after the bridge over the canal.

When you establish the route you intend to take to achieve your sustainability goals, you need to make sure you integrate a set of journey markers so that you don’t lose your way.

You need a driver

To get from A to B, you need a driver: someone that can keep things moving, that can take responsibility for making sure you arrive at your selected destination. There’s no point getting on the bus if there’s nobody at the wheel.

So someone needs to be appointed to lead the changes you’re looking to make when you’re setting sustainability goals, and it makes a lot of sense to involve them in the process from the outset so that they know where you’re heading, can familiarise themselves with the roadmap, and be ready to react to any barriers or obstacles that are encountered along the way.

How to avoid running on empty

You’re halfway through a journey somewhere, you glance down at your dashboard and you see that you’re running on empty! Any minute now, you could run out of fuel. In the middle of nowhere. What happens? You slow down…you might even start thinking about turning back or changing your destination to find fuel. Either way, progress toward reaching your programmed destination is immediately hampered.

In your journey toward achieving your sustainability goals, running on empty happens when the driver and passengers (your colleagues) lose interest and stop trying, and one of the biggest reasons for that is feeling like they have no idea where they are because nobody is keeping them up-to-date.

So, to keep everyone engaged, make sure you communicate details of your progress: often enough but not too often, and with enough detail but not so much that they become overwhelmed and don’t take it all in.

Try our sustainability and CSR performance review

There are lots of ways to achieve everything we’ve talked about here, but one of the easiest by far is to book your Sustainability and CSR Performance Review with us.

Why? Well, because for a start it tells you exactly where you’re at right now – codified as either Beginning, Improving, Succeeding or Leading. Not only that, the report that you get will set out indications of where you could hope to journey to in the future and ideas for routes you could take to get you there.

But it’s also based on our unique maturity model, which makes it easy to keep track of the improvements you’re making as you go – progressing iteratively through the four stages of maturity.

If you want help setting sustainability goals, you’ll find our Sustainability and CSR Performance Review is a great help. Click here for more information. And to make sure you reach your destination, you should also try our Virtual CSO service.

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