Why Managers Matter in Creating a Sustainability Culture

A decade ago, sustainability was something that was relegated to the work of the sustainability officer or a similar role. 

Fast forward to the present day, and the most successful organizations understand that environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues must be integrated across all parts of the organization. 

The big question is, how do you shift ownership of ESG initiatives from the role of the sustainability officer to a shared responsibility? The answer is a sustainability culture.

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A sustainability culture is defined as the shared values, beliefs, and norms that exist at an organization in relation to environmental and social issues. This encompasses everything from whether or not people recycle to who and how an organization hires. In a strong sustainability culture, everyone feels responsible for sustainability and pursues it everyday. 

Creating a sustainability culture takes significant effort, but it will be much easier if you have buy-in from senior managers for ESG. On the flip side, a lack of support from leadership can have a ripple effect across the organization.

Management's role in shaping sustainability culture

Although it has become a cliche, "tone at the top" actually makes a big difference. How big? Gallup studied performance at hundreds of companies and found that managers account for up to 70% of the variance in employee engagement levels. And when employees are engaged, they are motivated to work toward the goals of your organization — including your sustainability initiatives. 

The idea that a company's senior management sets the tone for the rest of the organization won’t be new to anyone working in EHS. Think about safety culture for a moment. Employees take their cues from leadership. If it’s clear that managers care about productivity above all else, employees are going to take shortcuts that compromise safety in order to get the job done faster. Likewise, it’s going to be difficult to get employees involved in your sustainability efforts without support from the top.  

Senior managers are ultimately responsible for communicating the company's vision to middle managers and shop-floor supervisors. This means establishing measurable targets at all levels of the organization. Providing proper training. Ensuring that processes are being followed and policies are being enforced. 

Leadership alone can make sustainability a priority and provide the resources to achieve sustainability initiatives. It’s one thing to talk about sustainability at the annual meeting, but managers who are truly committed to sustainability will allocate money and provide adequate staffing to support ESG efforts. 

Creating buy-in and encouraging participation

It’s not all bad news, though. The upside is that sustainability has finally become a boardroom issue in 2021. Investors and directors recognize that ESG performance directly impacts profits, and that ignoring it poses a major risk to the business. 

As such, many companies are now linking executive pay to ESG performance. By tying senior managers’ pay and bonuses to sustainability metrics — carbon emissions, diversity and inclusion, and so on — boards are hoping to incentivize managers to make sustainability a bigger priority. 

One byproduct of this is that many sustainability professionals are now reporting directly to the C-suite, in recognition of the specialized knowledge and expertise they bring to the table. According to NAEM, one in four sustainability professionals reported to the CEO in 2020 — giving them a critically important role in shaping the business’ plans for the future. 

That’s a good thing for sustainability professionals who are able to understand the pressure and challenges senior managers face and provide them with solutions. One ingredient makes this possible: real-time ESG data. 

By equipping senior managers with the data they need to understand current performance and trends, sustainability professionals can foster greater involvement at the highest levels of the organization. 

To do that, you'll need to invest in ESG management software that includes advanced reporting and analytics tools. Unlike spreadsheets and legacy database systems, ESG software provides managers with enhanced access to information and tools that assist with decision-making. Executive dashboards, like the one shown below, give managers instant visibility into key metrics such as greenhouse gas emissions, energy usage, and safety incidents.


With improved access to information, senior managers are empowered to become active participants in the sustainability conversation. And that's something that will trickle down to the rest of your employees. 

At Perillon, we offer an affordable cloud-based solution that helps global enterprises efficiently share environmental, sustainability, and safety risk knowledge across employees at all levels of the organization with powerful dashboards, mobile apps, and an intuitive user experience. Click here and fill out the form to request a demo today. 

Next, see more examples of executive dashboards.

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