Beyond box-ticking: achieving environmental sustainability is genuine organisational transformation

A number of studies already show that 2020 has seen the largest ever annual reduction in CO2 emissions. When the pandemic and its restrictions eventually ease, unfortunately much of this reduction in CO2 will reverse.   

However, what will not be lost is the huge progress made by organisations in doing business in a greener way. This year will go down as a significant milestone in the history of digital and business transformation. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technologies, mindsets and behaviours that are foundational to driving transformation. Looking forward, I hope this period is used as a catalyst for greater positive change, including making more permanent the gains in environmental sustainability we’ve seen so far this year.

For the housing sector, this goes beyond ‘paperless’ offices or reducing commuting but extends to the lasting impact housing development has on the environment. The Committee on Climate Change reported last year that the UK’s legal commitment to bring its greenhouse gas emissions down to net zero by 2050 will not be possible ‘without the near complete elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from UK buildings’.

Transformation in the provision of services and delivery of products

For housing providers, more than most businesses, achieving true environmental sustainability needs to be recognised as a fundamental transformation in how they provide services and what products they deliver. In short, the shift towards sustainability is as complex and broad sweeping as any business transformation programme. As such, housing providers should view their journey to net zero as a business transformation programme. Structuring, designing and implementing it how they would any other major change programme. Housing providers would do well to consider the following tips when considering how to plan to make themselves a more environmentally sustainable business:

  1. Acknowledge where you are now: Understanding your performance (establishing your baseline), and the reasons for that performance (e.g. what is contributing to your carbon footprint), is always the first step to effectively changing what you are doing.
  2. Be realistic when setting objectives: There’s a reason why the net zero target is 30 years away – it’s a big job. Objectives should be set that relate to the means of achieving them rather than setting something that sounds great, but you’ve no idea how it will be achieved.
  3. Plan to meet your objectives: Whether it is rethinking your input in how your new homes are designed or planning to re-engineer digital customer journeys, spend the  time planning the implementation. Consider the return on investment when prioritising what to tackle first.
  4. Don’t underestimate the resources required to achieve true transformation: Once objectives are set and plans are made, resource must be allocated to meet your timescales.  Resource will be required from a delivery, but also a programme management perspective to help monitor progress and report on this.
  5. When the decision is made, get the right people behind it: It is important to have advocates of the change throughout all layers and seniority of the organisation, starting with a programme sponsor. Find champions within your organisation (those with a passion for sustainability) and give them the support they need and recognition. It’s also vital to ensure that the right technical specialists are involved, whether it’s energy, Passivhaus or digitalisation specialists. Get the right people round the table from the beginning.
  6. Don’t launch and leave: Successful whole organisation transformation can’t be achieved solely by the core programme team, no matter how passionate and skilled. Momentum and motivation need to be driven from leadership. All staff need to be included in the journey whether through improving understanding or skills relevant to environmental sustainability, or simply involvement in workstreams / projects.

Making net zero achievable

Driving net zero is going to be a challenge for the sector, there is no denying it.  However, this journey can become more manageable. If organisations are able to view this challenge like any other business transformation programme – putting the necessary structure, rigour, planning and resource behind it – delivering net zero will become more achievable and a change that sticks.

Written by Matt McCormack-Evans, Head of Transformation and Change, Altair.