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Embedding Sustainability

NBS and Canadian Business for Social Responsibility present a five-part framework to help businesses embed sustainability into their organizational culture.

Best Practices from HR & Sustainability Experts

Many business leaders acknowledge that the true value of sustainability is realized only when it is embedded into their organizations’ cultures. Yet, business leaders lack a clear framework for systematically embedding sustainability into organizational culture.

Together with Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR), NBS hosted a one-day workshop with sustainability and HR executives. Participants exchanged their methods of integrating sustainability into corporate culture, discussing strategic planning, organizational structure, human resource management, sustainability reporting, and employee rewards and incentives. Best practices that emerged from the workshop are presented here in a five-part framework. Sustainability and HR professionals are encouraged to map their own environmental initiatives against this framework, and to identify specific practices to help them further sustainability in their own organizations.

Framework: The Star Model

The Star Model, developed by Professor Jay Galbraith, is a framework outlining the five elements (Strategy, Structure, Processes, People, and Rewards) essential to changing the culture of an organization.

  • Strategy determines the organization’s direction through goals, objectives, values and/or missions. The strategy defines the criteria for selecting an organizational structure and helps guide decision-making. E.g. Mission and vision statements.

  • Structure determines where decision-making authority lies within the organization. E.g. Creating an executive position with responsibility for CSR.

  • People influence and build the organization’s human resources through recruitment, promotion, rotation, training, and development. E.g. Providing sustainability training, workshops, and engagement activities to employees.

  • Rewards influence the motivation of organization members to align employees’ goals with those of the organization. E.g. Incorporating sustainability into financial and non-financial rewards programs.

  • Processes (the horizontal and vertical flow of information across the organization’s structure) define how things function in the context of a particular structure. E.g. Collecting and reporting data on sustainability performance.

Our discussion focussed on these elements and how they factor into sustainability planning. The resulting report describes best practices for embedding sustainability in your firm’s culture according to the five categories outlined in Galbraith’s Star Model.

Developing Your Action plan

Armed with the five categories of best practices, managers can create an action plan to mobilize staff and start embedding sustainability into organizational culture.

Learn from others.

Use the practices and examples in this report for benchmarking, suggestions, or inspiration.

Find your fit.

Identify your strengths and weaknesses across the five areas and prioritize your objectives and activities.

Understand the challenges.

Competing resource demands, the need to gain support at the executive level, and the tension between growth (of sales, revenues, etc) and sustainability may all represent hurdles within your organization.

Engage and collaborate to innovate.

Leverage the “grassroots” energy of the movement. Take advantage of opportunities for innovation and collaboration to meet your sustainability objectives.

Act now rather than later.

Don’t expect perfection the first time. Sometimes, “good” practices are good enough. Overcome any inertia and take the first steps you will learn along the way.


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  • NBS

    The Network for Business Sustainability (NBS) is a non-profit advancing sustainable development to build a fairer and more environmentally sound future. We aim to improve business practice by facilitating knowledge sharing across an international community of business leaders, scholars, students and policy makers. With these stakeholders, we co-create high-quality content that enables practical action. Our content focuses on 6 critical sustainability themes, from climate change to social justice.

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