A sustainability strategy, or a sustainable strategy? That’s the question.


A strategy is a prioritised set of choices and actions. It provides a framework to focus investments, resources and drive performance, as well as engage internal and external stakeholders. And as Michael Porter sais “the essence of a strategy is choosing what NOT to do”.

Strategy is used to describe the choices (purpose, priority and goals) that are made by companies to distinctively position the business for competitive advantage and value creation. For front-runners, the role of strategy may and should expand to the themes of a corporate purpose and its role in society. 

In recent years companies have to anticipate to new trends related to environment (think of biodiversity, emissions.) and social aspects (labor, human rights, communities and ethics) that effect the traditional dynamic of a company strategy. These trends shift the competitive landscape of markets and create unexpected challenges and opportunities for businesses. These influences are also challenging roles and priorities of functions and might even introduce entirely new stakeholders. Leading companies actually ensure that these shifting dynamics will be embraced and become part of the core of their strategy.  

To define a strategy that takes into account these new sustainability risks, opportunities and impacts companies need to prioritize sustainable key topics and goals for their business and understand the value sustainability offers them in achieving their overall business goals. Companies must explore the opportunity of sustainability to add value to the traditional goals and responsibilities. It all starts by reviewing the current mission, vision and strategy and by working out a ‘double materiality assessment’ for the organization. This will help to identify which key topics the company must focus on and must include in its strategy as well as their annual reports. A topic meets the criteria of double materiality (as defined in the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive – CSRD) if it is material from the impact perspective (what impact does the company have with its business activitites on society and the environment) or the financial perspective (what impact do specific topics have on the company’s financial/operational performance) or both of these two perspectives. 

The double materiality assessment will identify key topics which need to be included in the sustainability strategy of companies. These topics are input to formulate the ambition with regards to sustainability of the organization. What is the common dream where does the company want to be in the future? This ambition needs to be translated into clear ambitious goals and selected strategic choices (remember Porter: ''the essence of a strategy is choosing what not to do”). Once the strategic choices have been defined companies can start to formulate clear actions which are needed to reach those strategic choices in the short/mid and long term. Also, companies will identify clear measurements per strategic choice which will enable them to measure progress and to ensure that companies will actually reach the strategic choices and in the end the overall ambition. The finalized strategy will be summarized in a CSR plan on 1A4 and in a unique, ambitious and beautifully illustrated infographic. This recognizable infographic helps to have a clear and comprised overview which must be easy to understand. Of course all choices will be an input to select the right sustainabile develeopment goals (SDGs) which will have the strongest impact supporting the overall ambition. This will ensure that companies will engage more stakeholders and that everybody understand what the ambition is and how the company plans to get there. In the end the infographic should be a plan to be proud of, which can be displayed around the office or communicated via online platforms so all employees and other stakeholders will embrace the new strategy and become an active ambassador. New results can also be communicated with the infographic. Repeat, repeat, repeat and your stakeholders will get inspired.

After all, companies need to integrate the sustainability strategy in the overall strategy. As such, a sustainability strategy is a good starting point however in the end, all strategies should become sustainable strategies. The double materialty assessment, required by CSRD, is a strategic business tool, and not a stand alone process for reporting purposes only.

Would you like to discuss above in more detail? Reach out to Ulrike de Jong +31651072464 or mail ulrike@toscatribe.nl

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