Implementing sustainability strategies - fears are high

24. July 2023

How to implement your sustainability strategy in-house - 5 tips

If you want to make your company sustainable, you must never forget your employees. One thing is clear: without them, you won't succeed. We will show you the things you need to pay attention to.

It is frightening: 60 to 90 % of sustainability strategies fail in implementation. We assume that poor implementation in the company contributes significantly to the failure. This is because it is often only pushed forward half-heartedly - or forgotten altogether. To make sure this doesn't happen to you, we've put together five tips that can help you successfully establish your strategy internally.

1. Choose a clear focus and avoid a colorful palette

Sustainability is a complex topic, and it is easy to get lost in it. That's why it's important to find a focus that provides orientation - both internally and externally. For instance, you can follow the ESG topics (Environment, Social and Governance) or prioritize certain goals of the 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

Such a focus defines the main emphasis of all activities, but without - and this is important - neglecting the other areas. Sustainability entails more than simply "planting trees"; it must be approached holistically.

Take Volvo, for example: the brand that stands for safety has focused (among other things) on "SDG 3 Health and Well-being", hence on reducing road casualties.

In short: With a well-chosen focus, the brand can credibly illustrate the topic of sustainability both internally and externally.

2. The more transparent the error culture, the stronger the commitment of the workforce

Aligning a brand sustainably - that's not easy. It's not a goal that can be achieved at a specific point in time. For many, this discourages them from embarking on the journey in the first place. The fear of "greenwashing" or "purpose washing" accusations is great, as they can have fatal consequences, even if they are made unjustly.

That is why it is so important to live a transparent error culture: Mistakes should be allowed to be openly admitted so that everyone can learn from them.

Take Oatly, for example: The oat milk brand operates the website Fckoatly, where it publishes its mistakes. In this way, it wants to show that there is no perfect path to sustainable orientation.


© Website FCKOATLY

This courageous consistency serves as a role model - also for employees. For them, an open approach to mistakes is important, especially if it is exemplified by managers. 91% of the companies that live a positive error and innovation culture are pleased with high levels of employee engagement. It takes away employees' shyness and encourages them to get involved in sustainability.

3. Inform, empower and support your employees

For a sustainability strategy to succeed, the entire workforce must be brought on board. Because a basic law in brand management is: Only what burns on the inside can shine on the outside. To empower them, a company must provide the necessary knowledge and sufficient support.

Communicate your sustainability strategy with a storyline. Tell it:

  • What are the specific sustainability goals?
  • What focus has been chosen and why?
  • What measures are being taken, what effect are they having?
  • What can each individual employee contribute?

Generate enthusiasm for your sustainability ambitions! Staff need to see that you are planning more than just another PR campaign. And they need to understand that they will personally benefit from this development.

Make visible why the chosen focus fits the brand DNA. If employees identify with the brand, they will do the same with the associated sustainability goals.

Take Nike, for example: The sports brand developed a training program for its employees on the topic of sustainability to match its brand. The online courses and workshops cover topics such as circular design and sustainable materials. Nike also provides access to tools and resources that help everyone contribute to their ESG goals.

The knowledge acquired must then be implemented. Unfortunately, employees often lack the necessary resources to drive important changes. They need time, support, and money.

4. Embed sustainability as a corporate goal for everyone

The topic of sustainability cannot simply be delegated to a "sustainability department". All departments are required to align the brand accordingly. Incidentally, this is also done in the interests of future personnel, who have a clear mindset on this: For 67 % of business students, it is important that sustainability plays a role in their future job – this includes the areas of finance, logistics, human resources and marketing.

Take IBM, for example: The company offers customers software solutions that help them make their processes more sustainable. They also apply these to themselves. At IBM, environmental goals are part of the overall planning process, in which employees are also involved. In this way, all business units are analyzed: What correlations exist between IBM and the environment? Appropriate goals and commitments are then defined. This approach has increased employee commitment - as well as management support.

© IBM Website

It is important to determine what impact the individual departments have on the environment and how, based on this, sustainability goals can be defined. Be sure to put the goals in writing to ensure compliance.

5. Involve your employees

Everyone should feel that they are involved and can make a difference. However, this requires more than just proclaiming targets and measures as mandatory.

Take PVH Corp. for example: It is well known that water consumption in the fashion industry is a major problem and driver of the climate crisis. That's why PVH Corp., the parent company of brands such as Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, launched the PVH2O Brand Challenge to raise awareness among its employees about water consumption and encourage them to be creative and imaginative in finding solutions.

PVH - Do Something Strategic 

© Website PVH

A wonderful second effect: Involvement is a form of appreciation. Simply because the company approves of everyone's opinion and ideas.

Nadja So-Hui Schwarting

Associate Consultant

The topic of sustainability cannot simply be delegated to a "sustainability department".


Nadja So-Hui Schwarting

Senior Associate Consultants

Top Unternehmensberatung 2023: BrandTrust

Hattrick: We are also in the FOCUS Top Management Consultants ranking in 2023

For the third time in a row, we have been recognised as a top management consultancy by business magazine FOCUS in 2023. Once again this year, the excellent performance and memorable expertise of our consultants was recognised by both clients and colleagues.

We are delighted with this appreciation and would like to thank our clients and colleagues.

Get in touch with us

Would you like to arrange a non-binding telephone call with us or do you have questions about our offer? Then simply fill out this form and we will get in touch with you as soon as possible.

*Mandatory fields - please fill in these fields