Industry Voice: Businesses must actively support all stakeholders – both internal and external – throughout value chains towards net zero, writes Project Management Institute’s Ashwini Bakshi

One of the key lessons from COP26 is that the window for simply talking about climate change has closed. And, if we want to leave a better world for our children, every organisation – from the smallest independent through to the largest conglomerate – must act now.

On the path to net zero, corporations must play a significant role in implementing solutions and strategies to mitigate their own impact on the climate – not only within their operations but throughout their supply chain – with explicit recognition that the health of their organisation is dependent on the health of the environmental and social system they are part of.

Adapting corporate structure

One way businesses can embed climate goals into organisational strategy is to adapt their corporate structure. By introducing a chief sustainability officer to the leadership team – with a view to integrating sustainability into each of their pillars and processes – mitigating climate change and reducing emissions immediately becomes a c-suite priority.

Take the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) as an example. Responsible for around four per cent of the country’s carbon emissions, it has an essential role to play in meeting the country’s net zero targets. In October 2020, the NHS appointed its first chief sustainability officer, who is responsible improving the health of the nation through a “robust and accelerated response to climate change and the broader sustainability agenda”. 

Empowering employees to drive change

While elevating climate change into the c-suite is a priority, it is also important for different business functions own the execution of a company’s net zero strategy – as opposed to placing responsibility in silos – so that it’s part of every process and decision, and every upstream and downstream interaction.

This will enable organisations to unleash the ‘changemaker’ skillset – with employees combining human skills, business acumen, and adaptability to effectively shape the future of both themselves and their organisation. By promoting the ethos that anyone can learn the skills be a changemaker, organisations can empower their people to make their mark and feel comfortable in doing so.

Measuring success

While having the right structure and culture in place is important, a notable issue currently faced by business leaders is how they quantify the environmental impact of their decisions. It is time to swing the pendulum from businesses being forced to admit their footprint to instead proactively celebrating their positive impact on the world around them.  

Companies like Unilever, who, through the Unilever Climate Promise, are helping their partners to find new ways to measure, reduce and report on emissions in their own value chains, are leading the way. Meanwhile health technology company, Royal Philips, is aiming to have at least 50 per cent of suppliers (based on spend) committing to science-based targets (SBTs) for CO2 emissions reduction by 2025.

The climate crisis requires rapid organisational transformation, but it can’t be done in isolation. Businesses must actively support and incentivise all stakeholders – both internal and external – throughout the value chain to bring about the changes needed. By embedding climate goals into organisational strategy, action can be accelerated and progress towards net zero can be achieved. 

To read more about the project management principles that can facilitate the transition to net zero, please visit:

Ashwini Bakshi is managing director of Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa for Project Management Institute.

This article is sponsored by the Project Management Institute.

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