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Top advice on how to be sustainable through support from your finance team - from those who have done it

by Francesca Sharp on 23.05.2014 15:24

Inclusion, time and engagement are key to creating a sustainable business model according to the organisations whose finance teams have successfully embedded sustainability throughout operations.

Companies and organisations such as Marks & Spencer and Crossrail, social enterprises and SMEs have all been lauded for their sustainable credentials by the Finance for the Future Awards and have come together to offer the top tips to becoming sustainable businesses.  

The top tips are;

• Make sure sustainability involves everyone – by selling the business case
Marks & Spencer put its Plan A eco and ethical programme at the heart of its business with a surprising impact on the bottom line. "We started out by being extremely bold in terms of ambition….it had to involve everyone; logistics, human resources, public relations, and so on."

• Break down silos by communicating the financial benefits
Marks & Spencer's finance team used the evidence of efficiency savings to communicate to other departments how strong the business case for sustainability is – this broke down silos and helped identify further savings.

• Spend time engaging your stakeholders – including your investors
Recycling company Environcom not only held monthly briefings with employees to ensure they were up to speed on the financial benefits of sustainability measures, but also engaged funders and investors, to ensure they were on board with the business' turnaround. 

Enval, a company developing recycling processes, has learned that the world is no longer reliant on traditional methods of gaining finance. The rules are breaking down and the company was able to form collaborative relationships with big companies "…the way it has been partly financed, through partnering with large companies with a shared interest, signposts a way that companies can collaborate for growth in the future. Increasingly, business sustainability will come to rely on the involvement of outside stakeholders, in this case the supply chain, to provide finance and other forms of help." 

• The finance team is key to bringing the board 'on board'
Crossrail's finance team set up a sustainability committee, chaired by the CEO and attended by executives and senior management.  As a result, sustainability has been internally driven and embedded throughout the project - the biggest construction project in Europe.

• Use the finance team's expertise to measure against targets
Anglian Water valued a similar approach in bringing about cultural change through their organisational strategy 'Love Every Drop'. Measurement of progress against targets really engaged the board, and since 2010 they have reduced embodied carbon by 39% and reduced costs in delivering projects by 17%.

 A sustainable approach can apply to the mainstream – not just 'green' business
Osmosis, an investment management partnership, identified sustainable behaviour in large publicly listed companies and invested on the basis of that behaviour. They believe that companies which take a proactive approach to managing the constraints of world resources would deliver greater shareholder value – regardless of whether their core business operation is considered to be typically 'green'. 

• Applying business thinking can unleash positive social benefits – and boost income
Groundwork Pennine Lancashire is a charity which delivers services such as environmental business support, youth work and community wellbeing projects. The removal of a typical charity culture has allowed the team to operate as business professionals, and as a result nearly 70% of income now comes from the private sector. 

 Do not underestimate what you will get back
Elan, a hairdressing salon in Scotland says ‘everything takes time’. It may seem to be an expensive investment, but do not underestimate what you will get back. 

Now in their third year, the awards created by The Prince's Accounting for Sustainability Project and ICAEW, aim to celebrate and reward organisations that have embedded sustainability successfully, driven and supported by their finance teams.

Entries for the 2014 awards are now open and entrants must be able to demonstrate how managing environmental and social impacts has helped to make their organisation more resilient and financially sustainable.

The awards are free to enter and open to all organisations including businesses, charities, social enterprises and the public sector.

More information about the awards and how to enter are at www.financeforthefuture.co.uk