A series of interlocking metal cogs, engraved with words that can be partially seen – economic, social, environment, sustainability.

4 ways to make your sustainability story ‘more than green’

Being a responsible corporate citizen means so much more than taking a positive environmental stance. In addition to ‘being green’, sustainability today takes a long-term and strategic view of wider social and economic concerns. In essence, conducting business to the highest degree of ethics and responsibility in all areas, while still staying focused on success.

Peter Bragg, Canon EMEA’s Sustainability & Government Affairs Director, recently joined the business from multidisciplinary engineering and environmental consultancy Jacobs, where he was a Director of Environment and Sustainability. It’s given him an extensive perspective on what this combination of sustainability goals can achieve for businesses of all shapes and sizes across a variety of sectors. “The core sustainability issues are broadly the same,” he explains. “And customers looking in don’t always see the divisions between social, economic and environmental factors – though they’re all inextricably linked.” So, how can companies start to weave these three pillars together to form the long-term sustainability fabric of your organisation? Peter has some advice for businesses at every stage of the journey. 

What do your customers see?

Are you communicating your values effectively? Your commercial USP doesn’t have to be pure sustainability in order to share your efforts and activities with your customers. Peter takes the view that it’s vital to paint a broader picture of an organisation’s approach, connecting the dots across practices to demonstrate that sustainability is intrinsic to its core values. Take, for example, Canon’s approach to empowering the next generation, where educating young people in the skills of visual storytelling also introduces them to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – exposing the students to themes that run the gamut of global concerns and asking them how they can use their skills to address them. “Customers are looking for more and have an expectation that not only are you compliant – which suggests you’re doing the minimum – but that the brands that they associate themselves with are responsible, sustainable and do the right thing. When you begin to see your organisation through your customers’ eyes, it can be just the impetus you need. “When you start looking in from the outside, seeing how you present the whole piece together to the customer, that’s when things start linking together,” says Peter. He also gives the example of Eurostar (where he was a former sustainability lead). “It’s the most sustainable way of getting to Paris, certainly in carbon terms, but we knew that few customers choose it solely on that basis. However, it’s still hugely important to communicate to them that they’ve emitted around a tenth of the carbon emissions of flying and their whole journey experience has sustainability at its core.” This ranged from the responsibly sourced food served on board, to the upcycling of old staff uniforms. “Most customers do want to do the right thing when they buy goods and services,” Peter explains. “But it needs to be effectively communicated and simple for them.” A push to tell this story outwardly is often just what’s needed to give a business an understanding of their bigger picture – the places where social, environmental and economic meet.

A photo from above of two men going up some stairs in an office. They are both carrying archive boxes, one of which contains an house plant.
“The global economy is made up of SMEs and if every one of them works towards a combination of environmental, economic and social targets, then that makes a huge impact.”

Look beyond your own business…

There’s a saying “you are the company you keep” and in corporate sustainability this is a critical truth. “Your supply chain is part of your business,” says Peter. “As an organisation, you want to be responsible and align yourselves with a supply chain that is also responsible.” However, he describes it as a “push/pull relationship”, as it’s often not quite as simple as working with organisations that have the correct accreditations and tick the right compliance boxes. “Companies are now looking to work with businesses who align with their overall sustainability goals.” You should continually strive to ensure that your supply chain reflects the values of your organisation across the three pillars. “For example, many organisations – especially in the public sector – are now requiring both social value and net zero commitments,” Peter explains. “In one example in the UK, all of their suppliers have to sign up to science-based targets. No ifs, no buts, everyone must make those commitments.”

But don’t forget where you sit in the chain. 

When you ask an existing supplier to make a sustainability commitment, it’s important to understand the impact of your request. Equally, when a commitment is asked of your business, it is important to communicate that impact. Peter explains: “When you support your supply chain, you join up all of the organisations in these social and environmental issues. And this is an opportunity to help and be helped to improve.” Expecting your suppliers to sign up to new targets can be a huge challenge for them in the short to medium term. By anticipating the issue and offering support, it’s an opportunity to drive improvement and strengthen relationships in a way that benefits everyone. “That in itself has a huge impact,” says Peter. “And then everyone can talk about how they’ve improved. Overall, it makes a very powerful statement across a huge and diverse supply chain.”

Left: a head and shoulders photo of Peter Bragg. Right: A quote, reading “By working with your customers, it can help you to achieve your own goals.” ­— Peter Bragg, Director of Sustainability & Government Affairs, Canon EMEA”

Know your power 

Peter quotes the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead, saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” Brands can effect big change – no matter how large or small. “The global economy is made up of SMEs and if every one of them works towards a combination of environmental, economic and social targets, then that makes a huge impact.” When you buy products for your business, make sure they are from a business that shares your values. The same applies for the products and services that you sell – your customers will value you for your ethics as well as your price and service. “It becomes self-fulfilling, moving up and down the supply chain”. Peter also recommends an approach that involves your customers – connecting with them and working together with a shared goal – such as recycling programmes or loyalty schemes that benefit social causes. “Co-creation of a sustainability solutions – as soon as you start joining together there are some great opportunities. By working with your customers, it can help you to achieve your own goals.” 

Find out more about sustainability at Canon.

Written by Louise O’Driscoll