The key to sustainability lies in the right strategy. It's not just about the right objectives and action points, it’s about getting everyone on board to tell the same story.

What do you do before you leave on an adventure vacation? You make an itinerary of the places you want to see, the ways to get there, and you make a reservation for the accommodations in the area that best meet your needs. You could see the sustainability journey in the same way. It is not a journey you can embark on without preparation. A well-researched and thought-out strategy is half – or at least a large part – of the work.

"A sustainability strategy elaborates on the ESG priorities," says Michael Wagemans, Head of Sustainability at KPMG. "You translate these priorities into a strategic action plan in the short, medium and long term. Therefore, it’s very important not to take 2030 as your only horizon, nor to concentrate solely on the low-hanging fruit. Sustainability is a long journey, in which you must take certain steps over several years. If you have a lot of plastic packaging, step one is to choose another, less polluting, type. Only then can you look at how you operate without any plastic. The trick is to determine actions that deliver real results. Only then can you create traction."

Of course, a strategy also determines who needs to take which steps and which narrative and ambition best suit the company.

The sustainability manager as intrapreneur

Besides a strategy, it’s also important in this phase to focus on the human and organizational aspect of sustainably. This is the right time to hire a sustainability manager, give him the appropriate responsibilities or assign the role to someone internally. "What position do you give this person?" wonders Michael Wagemans. "In my view, this position should be high in the managerial hierarchy. This is the only way to have direct contact with senior managers of the company. And it almost automatically ensures clear reporting lines."

This sustainability manager will act as a missionary to propagate a sustainability strategy. "You can describe him as an intrapreneur," says Michael Wagemans. "It is his or her job to successfully implement the strategy. Since this person can’t take over the role of the business units, it might sometimes feel like dancing on a tightrope, though.”

A combination of soft and hard skills

A final aspect that will contribute to the success of your sustainability strategy is the buy-in from the leaders of the company. "This is often one of the reasons why things sometimes go wrong," says Michael Wagemans. "If you don't use the sustainability transition to create internal buy-in, there won't be enough commitment to bring this rather difficult task to a successful end. But also those who don't set the priorities thoughtfully enough or don't differentiate the roadmap enough over time can experience difficulties."

Sustainability is a combination of soft and hard skills. It means taking action, but also creating commitment. It means focusing on hard numbers and HR. It means thinking with the head and doing with the heart. This is precisely why the story – the sustainable narrative – is so important.

Sustainability at Milcobel

Milcobel, a dairy cooperative, is working on the concretization of its sustainability strategy based on its determination to be a company in harmony with society. "It is important to evolve in line with the cooperative and our members, building on their efforts in the past. Support and pragmatism are the key drivers, says Nils van Dam, CEO of Milcobel."

"Defining a sustainability strategy is in line with our purpose, but also with what our market expects," explains Nils van Dam. "Customer questions about sustainability have become requirements." The dairy cooperative's journey started with an internal data analysis. "You have to be able to measure. For example: how are you going to measure and monitor energy consumption across all your plants in the same way? A good analysis is complex and time-consuming, but extremely important as a basis." That didn't stop Milcobel from getting a clear view of the various customer demands, consumer trends and the approach of the competition. "In our materiality analysis (method for determining the ESG criteria that are important for the company) we indicated the themes that matter most to our stakeholders. By correlating that with our activities and what we can achieve, you develop concrete ambitions."

When determining the strategy, it is crucial for Nils van Dam to also make the business model more sustainable. "Milcobel wants to create added value by being sustainable," he says. "CSR is nice, but it doesn't last long if there is no economic model behind it. With Colruyt, for example, we worked out a circular model to process cheese leftovers into tapenades. In this way, you create a flywheel with different actions that reinforce each other."


Order your free copy of the full guide to sustainable business

sustainability order now
A collaboration between Trends/Trends Tendance and KPMG in Belgium.


Starting your sustainability journey

Are you looking to articulate your organization’s sustainability ambitions and express them in tangible goals, targets and KPI’s? If so, you are embarking on a valuable, but also complex, journey. Let KPMG's sustainability and ESG experts assist you!  Discover our full offer of sustainability services or contact our sustainability experts.