Many employees have a passion for sustainability and a strong desire to incorporate ESG concepts into the work they do, both at the company and individual level. According to ING Research, turning passion into action at the employee-level has the potential to transform businesses.
Our global survey of 450 senior executives shows that large numbers of employees across all functions want to become better educated about climate change (46%) and have a greater focus on climate issues in their current job remit (42%).
For many, personal passion is a powerful reason to get involved in sustainable transformation. "I come to work to make things better and to make a difference," says Dan Myers, managing director for UK and Ireland of XPO Logistics. "As a business and as individuals, we've got very strong moral compasses, and we know that sustainability is the right thing to do."
These professionals recognise the impact of climate change goes beyond business – it affects every aspect of our lives – and this simple, human narrative can sometimes be a stronger motivation than a corporate net-zero target.
"My geography teacher made me aware of climate change when I was 14, and I've never really looked back," explains Zebrina Hanly, Royal Mail's head of environment and climate change. "I wonder what future I'm leaving for my child, and I spend every day wondering; if I had gone into this meeting differently, if I had tried to pivot it a different way, could we have achieved more? This isn't just about getting paid. It isn't just about delivering the mail. This is so much bigger than that."
Speaking the same language
Our research suggests not everyone knows where to start and many struggle to engage with others on the topic, with nearly half (46%) saying that the biggest personal challenge they face is getting other teams to collaborate on sustainability and ESG initiatives. So how do we create those links and open the dialogue on such topics?
Jenny Wassenaar, chief sustainability officer of Trivium Packaging, believes that the answer lies in greater visibility and communication across functions, alongside individual empowerment. "A significant part of my role is to engage with people in every function and to make sure they also contribute," she says.
"We have sustainability champions or contacts in each and every function in our organisation. Through them, we communicate our sustainability message, and they help us to develop their sustainability objectives in their area of expertise."
ESG leaders need expertise
Successful company-wide sustainability initiatives also depend on the technical expertise of those in sustainability roles. Senior sustainability executives tell us that knowledge of the business is as important as a strong understanding of climate change mitigation.
"I advocate for technical sustainability leadership in big organisations, and for it not to be a marketing department," says Hanly. "You need technical, value-led leaders, a safe pair of hands andpeople that can communicate what climate science means, that can deconstruct what the rules and regulations are, see the intention and innovate."
Similarly, Christine McGrath, SVP and chief sustainability officer at Mondelēz, stresses how important it is that sustainability leaders develop technical business skills.
"Sustainability leaders need to have business acumen," she says. "The people I bring into the sustainability function within Mondelēz have experience in other business areas – they might have worked in supply chain, strategy, financial or marketing. They can think with an end-to-end perspective about how to embed sustainability in business strategy and how to create value by either saving money, growing top line or reducing risk. It is absolutely key to have those cross-enterprise and cross-functional skills to make sustainability work."
When passion, communication and expertise align, cross-departmental collaboration becomes easier, meaning the whole organisation can benefit from having a sustainability or ESG-led strategy.
Finance departments, for instance, increasingly have a big role to play in securing funding for sustainability initiatives. Packaging multinational Smurfit Kappa is one organisation that has successfully linked sustainability targets to corporate financing. 
The firm has incorporated sustainability-linked targets into its evolving credit facility [RCF], with mandatory annual targets. It has also issued a use-of-proceeds green bond.
"When we look at financing and corporate planning, [our sustainable strategy] also feeds through into operations, because they're getting a lower cost of financing from us. They can finance their business in a better way and also feel good about what they are doing," explains Emer Murnane, group treasurer at Smurfit Kappa. "All of this was made much easier for us in treasury because the company had been reporting on sustainability for over 13 years. We were embedding into our financing something that was already being done."
As companies look to cross-collaborate on ESG strategy, aligning sustainability reporting and KPIs with fundraising initiatives is an obvious and successful partnership for many organisations, as evidenced by the incredible growth in sustainability-linked bonds and loans in recent years.
By placing communication and cross-departmental teamwork at the centre of their sustainability strategy, businesses can lay the foundations that will empower their people to get the job done. It's what makes the difference between being enthusiastic and taking action to achieve greater sustainability – and for the sake of our planet, we cannot settle for anything less.
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