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Embedding sustainability into business strategy and core operations

A view from South Africa

Embedding ESG (economic, social, governance) goals into business strategy has been shown to have a positive impact on returns and shareholder sentiment. Furthermore, the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of corporate resilience and, as the world begins the slow path to recovery in 2021, businesses across the continent need to be thinking how their organisations can embed sustainable practices that benefit both shareholders and stakeholders. This perspective proposes a pragmatic approach to embedding sustainability at the heart of business strategy and operations.

The strategic choices leaders take to address environmental and socio-economic sustainability imperatives remain as critical now as they were pre-pandemic and will remain so over the next decade. However, business leaders often struggle to know where to start, and are caught between competing interests that see sustainability as a zero-sum game between winners and losers. In fact, much of the South African collective corporate imagination continues to equate sustainability with compliance, costs, and constraints.

Acknowledging the inherent organisational and systemic challenges impeding businesses from realising the full strategic potential of sustainability, this report reiterates the business case and a staged approach to embedding sustainability at the heart of business strategy. The time has come to associate sustainability not with trade-offs, but with competitive advantage, and enduring business performance.

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