Think ‘People’ in your sustainability agenda


Happy workers. FILE PHOTO | NMG


  • Cutting corners to profits harms not just clients but the entire chain.

The business world is abuzz with going green and sustainability in the search for longevity.

It, however, goes beyond putting office resources to good use and includes financial health.

Sustainability has a social face in the form of how a company handles staff welfare along with the interests of customers and the larger society.

This social component of sustainability has often been overlooked, yet a company cannot stand without factoring in people interests, seen and unseen.

Social sustainability occurs when businesses, both formal and informal, install systems, structures and relationships that support generations.

This is by contributing to creation of healthy and livable communities. Socially sustainable communities strive to be equitable, democratic, diverse, and provide quality life and equal opportunities for growth.

Social sustainability is one of the three main pillars, alongside economic and environmental pillars, of great companies. It is the people-pillar in the People, Planet and Profit triple bottom-line narrative.

According to the UN Global Compact, the social component of a business cannot be downplayed for it shapes the quality of relationships with staff, customers and authorities. It differentiates a healthy work ecosystem from a toxic one.

To this end, embracing social practices by companies, some of whom include it in annual reports, offers a window through which a business can view its impact.

Cutting corners to quickly put your product on the market for profits harms not just your immediate customers, but the entire chain.

It, therefore, goes that before you declare your organisation as sustainable, you should pass the social test.


One way organisations can ease the tension between how employees feel about their work on the one hand and their values on the other is by communicating company long-term interests and goals.

These should ideally be goals that are committed to improving people, the society and planet.

To achieve this, your company is better advised to come up with a “living plan”, which is essentially a blueprint for a growth strategy. It spells out how the company’s success is tied to the success of the planet.

The ‘living plan’ should aim to score three main goals: improve health and well-being; reduce the company’s environmental impact; and improve economic livelihoods. It injects purpose into the company, which is the lifeblood of any venture.

To monitor progress, companies ought to use not only the lenses of individual staff growth and productivity but also how it affects the future.

A well taken-care-of workforce means lower rates of turnover and lost man-hours. Sustainable employees ensure business longevity through loyalty and commitment.

According to a 2018 Gallup study, 85 percent of employees function below their potential with a majority feeling disengaged.

In most cases, it’s not only pay that builds staff loyalty and productivity, finding meaning and passion in what they do and being part of a greater cause are key to them.

A talented workforce that’s well taken care of is almost certain to drive a lasting progress and innovation.

To ensure the whole team is on board, the sustainability agenda should see employees have a sense of ownership of the idea and achieve full participation.

This has become a talent attraction and retention selling point in the labour market.

To become socially sustainable, the first step is to assess the areas in need of intervention and measuring the options and resources available.

Once defined, the next task is to craft an implementing strategy, clearly timed. Like all business strategies, it takes time for the results to start showing.

More important, managers should not only actively encourage sustainable practices and ideas but should be change agents themselves. Employees should equally be free to share their ideas while managers support.

These efforts will create a better working environment with a highly motivated staff.

Social sustainability is doable and something that more and more companies should explore. Those that care enough about their margins can not ignore their people. Every executive should join the social movement.

The writer is CEO, Kenya Climate Innovation Centre.