The global health and economic crises have placed social and environmental issues near the top of most companies’ concerns which we have seen accelerating for two years now across all sectors.

For more than ten years, we have been convinced that our responsibility as a consulting firm is to raise awareness on sustainable development and support organizations in implementing concrete actions.

Paved with good intentions but distraught, companies often need ideas and support during their strategy’s operationalization phase. With this in mind, we met with the leaders of some twenty major international organizations and asked them about the evolution of their organization to meet environmental and social challenges as well as the triggers, brakes, and accelerators of a profound transformation.

This document summarizes these open discussions with managers about the importance of sustainable development. One thing is sure: sustainable development is on the agenda of most companies which henceforth must design its organizational structures, governance and decision-making from an environmental and social perspective.

The environmental issue is multi-layered, making it complex to grasp. Companies have difficulty comparing global ecological issues – mainly greenhouse gas emissions and removal – with so-called “local footprint”, such as waste management, water and soil pollution, and biodiversity impacts. Another difficulty lies in the close links between environmental and social issues.

How can organizations reconcile such diverse issues? We hope that through the seven themes explored in this study, companies will better tackle the situation and be able to initiate and accelerate their transformation. This summary also gives concrete examples of different organizations, their governance, and other implemented levers for action in order to support this structural change.

Seven themes explored:

  1. After the pandemic crisis, an inevitable return to business as usual?
    Short-term issues to be reconciled with longer-term socio-environmental commitments
  2. Known action levers to accelerate the maturity
    From the definition of a “Purpose” to an in-depth transformation (business transformation but also, and more importantly, cultural transformation)
  3. Stakeholders: mixed signals
    Companies’ difficult choice when torn between short-term profitability objectives, disparate regulations, changing consumers and employees expectations
  4. Different sectors, common triggers
    Dynamics that are driven by visionary management, a lesson learned project, or a paradigm shift between cost center versus profit center
  5. Communication: a balancing act
    Challenging decisions to take when facing the various existing reference systems and the will to communicate externally without falling into greenwashing
  6. Insufficient resources: a sign of a lack of alignment among top management
    A frequent discrepancy between commitments and resources planning, between day-to-day survival and tangible investments in a sustainable business
  7. A necessary breakthrough for effective results at the right scale
    Aware of the emergency and the necessity of action, actors are often helpless towards the tremendous challenge that awaits them
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