Your path forward starts and ends with answering this simple question: What does sustainability mean for your company? 

Sustainability has different connotations and implications depending on the industry in question. For some companies, their entire modus operandi is shaped by the DNA of sustainability. Whether this relates to responsible sales and marketing of products, transparent and equitable supply chain management, or the lasting results felt by the community after engaging with that company.

Multinational corporations typically fit into this first category. Puma™, for example, has consistently finished first in the fashion industry’s table for sustainability, with top scores for employee rights, emissions control, and transparency about their water and chemical usage. 

In a second category, there are younger companies that use sustainability as an entry point for acquiring new customer bases, penetrating new market opportunities, and acquiring younger consumers. An example is Maison Marou, a growing brand in the chocolate market in Vietnam with just over 10 years in operation. Maison Marou has close ties to its suppliers and commitments to environmental stewardship. It is also heavily invested in curating a brand that appeals to a range of increasingly ethically conscious customers, including young Vietnamese consumers, as well as tourists wanting to learn about origin cocoa markets and the local communities they support. Another example is ECO Vietnam, a pioneering start-up company driving change in the food waste sector from the ground up.

One big motivator for starting your sustainability plan is that investors increasingly expect the companies they fund to prioritise their CSR responsibilities, especially when it comes to sustainability. As a result, many companies are working hard to demonstrate to their shareholders that their sustainable practices are having a positive impact on the social, environmental, and financial progress of the business.

Whether your company is a well-established global business or whether you’re a start-up company, your organisation’s ability to meaningfully pose this overarching question about what sustainability means to you is the most important first step.

Here are a few ways to help take on the question of sustainability in a practical way:

Step 1

Establish a Sustainability task force – a group of staff drawn from different parts of your business, who can offer suggestions and perspectives on the issues

Step 2

Ask the task force to survey the workforce, seeking ideas on different sustainability topics and prioritising the ones that are deemed more business-critical than others

Step 3

Conduct an external mapping exercise of companies in your industry and in broader Vietnam, to test your assumptions about what others are doing and what the success measures might be for different sustainability approaches

Step 4

Use the data collected from Steps 2 & 3 to help your task force create 1, 3 and 5-year sustainability goals for your company, with accompanying success measures and approximate resourcing and budgeting requirements

Step 5

Share these goals with your senior teams, and draft an initial roadmap document that helps chart a way forward for each year. This plan should include objectives, outputs, costs, risk measures and so on.

Step 6

Depending on the size of your company, you might need to follow some established protocols in order to ensure your newly designed sustainability plans are taken on board and financially supported. 

Why Should You Care About Sustainability? 

One advantage of introducing sustainability to a newly launched business is to ensure investment and resources are in place to properly execute your goals.

Huyen Luong, ECO Vietnam’s Founder, has been asking the sustainability question since her company was launched one year ago. “We’re currently selling food waste machines to households in Vietnam; next on our list is schools. Sustainability, for us, means influencing the young minds in this country, not just scaling our distributions for profit.”

For larger companies, looking at retro-fitting sustainability practices into well-established institutional systems and cultures, the road ahead can be rocky. Yet, if the fibre of your company is forged from its responsible practices, the answers come easily. Puma, for example, stepped up during the pandemic in Vietnam by continuing to pay its workers throughout the protracted months of lockdown.

Sustainability is an all-encompassing topic. Companies must hook time and effort around a range of issues, including environmental policies and practices (cutting emissions, for example); supply chain management; workers’ rights and welfare; and a host of community investment initiatives. None of these issues can be tackled completely by one company, or even by one country’s government. There will always be new innovations and technologies for companies to harness in support of more sustainable outcomes, as well as adjustments to legislation that will influence the companies’ policies and attitudes towards sustainability.

Navigating these bends in the road comes with a cost, and yet, what value can we place on the world’s future? 

Rising global temperatures and water levels, large-scale conflicts, economic crises, unemployment, food insecurity, social and financial inequality – these mega issues and trends (underscored across the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals; SDGs) are inter-connected in many ways. As should be our collective efforts to resolve and remove the negative impacts of each of them.

The private sector alone can’t shift the dial 100% on the SDGs, but neither can the SDGs be satisfactorily achieved without contributions from businesses.

In Vietnam, there are many emerging examples of locally owned companies turning a profit through the distribution of services and products, but also investing purposefully in their employee’s wellbeing. 

Shire Oak International is a solar energy supplier committed to selling not just solar panels to the millions of square metres of factory space in the country, but also to selling their ideas about sustainability to their customer base. In doing so, their sustainability itself becomes their business. It seeps into all their transactions (with employees, suppliers and customers). It shapes all of their decisions, all of their “behavioural norms.”

Crowne Relocations, an international relocation and records-keeping business, has adopted a similar approach, combining environmentally sensitive policies towards their logistical operations, as well as heavily investing in their staff and the local communities from which their employees hail.

Their country manager, Jamie Rossall, believes this recipe of inter-mixing sustainability into all aspects of Crowne’s modus operandi, is the only way to future-proof results that benefit everyone. 

“We will always try to put our people at the centre of all the decisions we make at Crowne,” Rossall said. “Without their commitment and engagement to the business, we simply don’t have one. The buck stops there.”

Wherever the buck stops in your organisation, don’t put off taking that first step towards answering your sustainability question. The future of your company begins with that action alone.

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Tim Burrill
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