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Creating Sustainability Champions: How to Improve Sustainability Programs Through Stakeholder Engagement


This information was first shared as a presentation entitled Creating Champions: How to Improve Sustainability & Social Impact Programs Through Stakeholder Engagement, prepared and delivered by Erin Bryson, FigBytes Sustainability Manager, September 2022.

Establishing and maintaining sustainability or social impact programs are challenging endeavors for any organization. Many sustainability professionals find themselves with limited resources to effectively run these programs. Stakeholders by definition are key to organizational success but it’s becoming increasingly critical to encourage their involvement and engagement with sustainability initiatives.

This blog outlines key considerations for engaging stakeholders in organizational sustainability programs. By following these best practices, organizations can create champions who will help drive these programs forward.

What’s Holding Your Stakeholders Back From Becoming Sustainability Champions?

Encouraging stakeholders to fully embrace and advocate for an organization’s sustainability program first requires overcoming some barriers that may be discouraging them from becoming more actively involved.

1)      Disconnect Between Actions and Objectives

When stakeholders cannot easily connect the dots between the actions an organization is taking with the sustainability objectives it has in place, they can easily become discouraged from offering their support.

2)      Lack of Buy-in

Long-term support is essential for the long-term success of an organization’s social impact and sustainability programs. Without buy-in from certain stakeholders, especially those in leadership roles, these programs can lack the resources and support needed to achieve an organization’s sustainability goals.

3)      Fatigue & Burnout

Time and energy are finite resources, especially for an organization’s stakeholders. Participation in activities in support of sustainability programs is often voluntary and extra work—an addition to a team member’s usual responsibilities.

From Stakeholder to Champion: Tips for Overcoming Barriers

Turning stakeholders into champions is no easy task but doing so is critical to the long-term success of achieving sustainability and social impact goals. Here are a few easy steps that can help convert your stakeholders into engaged champions.

1)      Identify Possible Champions and Their “Why”

First, an organization needs to consider which of its many stakeholders have the potential to become sustainability champions. Not all groups will have the time, interest, or influence needed to fully support an organization’s sustainability efforts. It’s important to be pragmatic here to determine who may have the potential to commit to programs and contribute to organizational goals.

Once they know the who, next sustainability professionals need to ask themselves, “Why should our stakeholders care, and how can we appeal to them?” Finding the reason that will motivate a stakeholder to become an active player is essential to building a team of champions. To do so sustainability professionals need to get to know their various stakeholders on a deeper level to find out what they care about that could encourage them to be more involved. It’s about building relationships to drive collaboration and program commitment.

2)      Demonstrate Commitment From the Top

The next step is demonstrating to stakeholders that these initiatives are not only supported by a sustainability manager or department but are also an organization’s priority. Ensuring top-level buy-in goes beyond just monetary support demonstrates to stakeholders that an organization is serious about committing to its sustainability and social impact goals. Leaders should be talking about the importance of sustainability efforts often and working to engrain these values throughout the organization. This gives stakeholders more confidence in program initiatives which in turn makes them feel better about giving their time and energy to supporting these programs themselves.

3)      Boost Support and Recognition Efforts

Everyone enjoys being recognized for their contribution, including stakeholders. Organizations need to recognize and reward efforts across teams to help motivate as well as inform stakeholders of the hard work being done and progress toward goals.  This demonstration of appreciation also helps create feel-good moments for stakeholders around the efforts they put into supporting the organization and contributing to something bigger.

4)      Communicate at Every Step

Communication is key to creating sustainability champions. By connecting with stakeholders at every step of a program or initiative, organizations have more opportunities to foster engagement. More communication means more opportunities for stakeholders to share their insights into how an organization is progressing as well as ideas for improving sustainability and social impact programs. This helps convert stakeholders into true champions, providing a feeling of ownership in the process and outcomes of the programs.

Ongoing communication also has the benefit of helping to strengthen the relationship between sustainability teams and their stakeholders. Building this rapport helps stakeholders feel heard and valued, leading to continued interest and participation and ultimately a better chance of program success.

Is your organization facing challenges while trying to involve stakeholders in your sustainability journey? FigBytes can help. Our ESG Insight Platform offers engagement tools that visualize your data-driven sustainability story, simplify stakeholder communication, and create sustainability champions for your organization.

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