Helping operations apply corporate sustainability vision

Strategic efforts in relation to environmental, social and governmental standards, which are designed to be rolled out at operational level, are seldom without challenges.

Corporate businesses worldwide are adopting a growing array of environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies to promote sustainability – but are their operations keeping up?

Rising standards for corporate performance are putting pressure on the private sector to raise its game in terms of ESG, according to Darryll Kilian partner and principal environmental consultant at the global firm of engineers and scientists, SRK Consulting.

SRK Consulting partner and principal environmental consultant Darryll Kilian.

“This means that companies must stay up to date with fast-changing requirements, but at the same time must understand how their operations on the ground need to respond,” said Kilian. “Our work in the field of water stewardship, for example, shows that companies achieve quite variable rates of success when implementing corporate decisions at operational level.”

He pointed out that corporate strategic efforts are usually driven from head office and board level, and are expected to be uniformly rolled out by group operations to equivalent standards. However, this practical implementation often faces considerable challenges, especially where there is misalignment between the corporate vision and the operations’ daily concerns.

“Many large companies struggle to turn visionary ambitions into action,” he said. “An important factor here is when head office is not fully cognisant of the day-to-day frustrations of their on-site staff, or if their operations are not on board with headquarters’ plans.”

An aspect of ESG where SRK has frequently encountered such conditions is related to water management, according to SRK Consulting senior environmental scientist Tamaryn Hale. With the growing focus on water stewardship, many corporates are driving related initiatives from the highest levels. SRK’s credentialed scientists assist clients in this journey, including the achievement of certification from the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS).

SRK Consulting senior environmental scientist Tamaryn Hale.

“It is expected that these water stewardship policies and plans are applied at operational or site level,” said Hale. “The challenges appear when site personnel have what may be considered more pressing demands, or indeed may not have the capacity to follow through.”

The water stewardship journey can indeed be initially intimidating for companies, she noted, but can be effectively achieved with sufficient communication, planning and commitment of resources and expertise. At its core, the strategy assists companies to consider not just their internal water needs but the full life-cycle of the water they rely upon for commercial success.

“This includes understanding the needs and contribution of other stakeholders in their catchment area, and engaging to ensure positive outcomes for all,” she explained. “A critical step is to ensure that head office communicates these priorities through its ranks, so that everyone shares an appreciation of the goal.”

She highlights the importance of creating an enabling company culture, and to build the capacity to implement these initiatives. Where a business is looking to make changes for the better, it will invariably need to invest resources and expertise so the work is effectively carried out, said Hale.