Why Putting Sustainability First Means Putting People First

Dec 12, 2022

Diversity must take precedence for any ecosystem to flourish. In nature, biodiversity — the variety of living species on Earth at all its levels (plants, animals, bacteria and fungi) in one area — is essential for the processes that support life to operate. Every gene and micronutrient plays a vital role.

Ecosystems are in danger of collapsing when biodiversity loss transpires. Similar to how the biodiversity and connectivity of a forest keeps it functioning, diversity in an organization keeps it stable, sustainable and optimized for growth. Yet, while the word sustainability is used frequently in CSR (corporate social responsibility), ESG (environmental, social, governance) and marketing efforts across corporations from a climate action perspective and with regard to their bottom line, the term is not used when referring to a company’s People, the most important resource — the backbone of its growth. Sustainability is undoubtedly crucial for the planet. In the same vein, sustainability can be applied to People. As I always say when working with C-suite executives to transform their company culture, “People and authenticity first!”

More than ever, companies are putting ESG at the forefront of their compensation plans, and diversity is part and parcel in the execution. According to a survey by The The Conference Board, Semler Brossy and ESGAUGE, the vast majority of S&P 500 companies are now linking executive compensation to some form of ESG performance. In fact, 73% percent of companies made this correlation, compared to 66% in 2020. The biggest increase came from companies using Diversity, Equity & Inclusion goals in their executive compensation plans. The percentage of organizations in this group rose from 35% tin 2020 to 51% in 2021.

Nurturing Sustainable Talent for the Future

While numbers are promising, something is missing. A plethora of ESG conversations revolve around waste management as a solution for sustainability. My question for corporate America is, what’s your leadership doing to make sure that your people are not being treated like wasted resources? When we talk about conserving the environment for the good of the planet, how much are we making it a point to cultivate healthy work environments in which diversity on an individual level is seen, heard, and celebrated? Corporations commit to making significant investments in protecting nature as part of doing business; are they also making an equal commitment to protecting the Human nature within their companies?

The more I partner with corporations to create and integrate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives into their growth strategies, the more I hear groups refer to diversity as an issue of needing more “Women of Color” working in an organization. While that’s obvious, real diversity encompasses so much more than gender or ethnicity. For me, Diversity is rooted in the practice of inspiring people to feel confident in bringing exactly who they are to the table, which is unique for every individual. Overlooking the potential and value of individual talents defeats the purpose of building a company culture with diversity at its core.

It’s time for organizations across the board to promote sustainable growth not only for their bottom line and their environmental initiatives, but also for the growth of their People. Sustainability of any kind requires diversity of thought and creativity; while both are widely considered soft skills in the workforce, I believe they are imperative for any company to drive business results and thrive.

Companies need to determine how they’re not only employing and training people, but also how they’re elevating their minds AND lives. As we move from the recession and come out on the other side, companies can be upskilling their employees and getting them ready for their next big job and all the jobs emerging in the next decade. And that is for another post. Stay tuned!

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