Sustainability Management: A Voluntary Exercise Turned Strategic Commitment

January 19, 2023

New program 2023

No more tokenism: Issues such as climate protection, diversity, and social responsibility have become existentially important to companies, which, in light of the multitude of ongoing crises, have had to tackle current challenges head-on more than ever before. Against this backdrop, the program ESG and Sustainability at the WU Executive Academy seeks to equip executives with the right tools to master strategic sustainability management. Strategy expert Vladimir Preveden and WU sustainability researcher Christof Miska explain how companies will benefit in their daily business practice and also outline the specificities of the program.

A green arrow made of grass moves up a flight of concrete stairs
Once marginal topics, now indispensable: climate protection, diversity and corporate social responsibility. Photo © shutterstock - Mopic

“Today, companies can no longer afford to view sustainability exclusively from the perspective of communication and marketing. This crucial and varied topic is key for our future and requires a well-thought-out, strategic approach,” says Christof Miska from the Institute for International Business at WU Vienna, who was a member of the team that developed the new program. Sustainability management should always be anchored in a strategy. “It is about nothing less than the complete and utter transformation of business models and the survival of entire industries.”

Must-Have Instead of Nice-to-Have: How to Tackle the Topic of Sustainability

Many companies have had to reconsider their strategy completely as they were set to wait for the pressure from outside (caused by regulations or customer demand) to become overwhelming before actually considering change. “Now, the bar is rising: To stay on top of things, companies have to change and be willing to do so of their own accord,” Miska says. Future-proof management is about developing a suitable strategy that offers long-term perspectives.

Christof Miska Portrait

Christof Miska

  • Sustainability researcher

If companies fail to become active without being prompted to, they risk ending up getting tossed around by governments, NGOs, and other stakeholders.

First, a Strategy

A systematic focus on sustainability requires an active approach – as opposed to a wait-and-see attitude. “It’s about contributing to finding solutions for our planet and society while, at the same time, gaining a strategic competitive advantage for your company through sustainability,” Vladimir Preveden, a consultant on strategic sustainability management and a co-developer of the program, advises. “Time is of the essence. This is why all activities need to be prepared and implemented in a strategically meaningful way. It’s not enough to have a good track record regarding reportings and marketing. Companies need to take this all-pervasive change seriously and deploy an interdisciplinary process involving the entire staff,” Preveden specifies. Sustainability will become a vital issue across all spheres of an enterprise. “Acting and deciding fast can give companies a competitive edge.”

Portrait photo of Christof Miska and Vladimir Preveden
Christof Miska and Vladimir Preveden know what they are talking about - and share their knowledge in the new compact program of the WU Executive Academy.

“No company can afford to implement sustainability management at half speed,” Miska confirms. Those who don’t take it seriously will have to face the consequences: Investors might withdraw, customers will shun certain products and services, and especially younger employees will be less inclined to work for such a company. And all of this is going to be exacerbated dramatically in the future, Miska predicts.

How to Implement Successful Sustainability Management

Apart from the right strategy and a mindset that is open to change, what else will companies need to become sustainable and fit for the future? Here is an overview of the most pertinent areas of sustainability management:

  • Systemic Approach

A systemic approach involves looking at the impact of decisions as part of a big picture, which means that a company’s environment is considered in every decision made.

  • Trend Analyses and Strategic Intent

Decisions should always be based on an analysis of developments and trends, and courage is a key ingredient. “Companies will need a clear vision of what direction to take,” Miska says. “For this, it can be helpful to come up with plausible scenarios for the future as a team.”

  • Focus on Goals Near and Far

If goals are set for the far-away future – e.g. to become CO2-neutral by 2040 –, it could be a sign of a lack of confidence.

Vladimir Preveden Portrait

Vladimir Preveden

  • Strategy expert

Sustainability goals should always be broken down into concrete, measurable indicators and be observed over a period that people can easily keep track of and influence, such as three to five years. In the end, it’s about accountability.

  • Build Strategic Networks

Partnerships within and beyond one’s industry are gaining in importance. This is due to the increasing complexity of the issue that makes it difficult to deal with all the requirements on one’s own. Companies will be well advised to open themselves up for networking and even collaborating with their competitors, if both sides stand to gain from it.

  • Build Heterogeneous Strategy Teams

Successful companies involve a large part of their executive team in strategy development. The team responsible for this should be staffed with people from various departments. Sustainability is not an isolated agenda!

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