Although the term ‘materiality’ doesn’t tend to fill people with inspiration, quite often the outcomes from this process of understanding what sustainability matters matter can be quite revolutionary.
Over the years businesses have gone through trends on how to tackle sustainability. It started with tackling environmental issues, moved on to trying to tackle ALL issues and now where it’s at is focusing on a few important issues and doing them right.
Not massively revolutionary I hear you say. Well you’d be surprised. With many businesses tying themselves in knots trying to manage 30+ sustainability objectives with associated KPIs, battling to get their workforce to understand/care about all of them and then trying to report on the lot - they find themselves in a jumbled mess.
Cue smart materiality. Suddenly you know you have 6 key issues you should focus on as a business to keep your employees happy, your customers coming back for more and your investors impressed. You can develop super clear communications to your workforce on what matters and what they can do. Your reporting becomes slick and engaging because you’re not trying to say everything. And your board suddenly ‘gets’ sustainability because it’s easy to understand and clearly linked to bottom line impact.
So how do you do it Houdini? Our approach is to use smart and tailored surveys to find out what matters, using frameworks for rigour. We use sustainability experts to interview key people and get the fine detail. And we use a materiality calculation process that takes into account the relevance of issues as well as their popularity (it’s a big mistake just going with popularity – you’ll end up with loads of material issues and won’t really understand the difference between them).
Materiality isn’t new. However it is crucial if you want a sustainability approach that is going to succeed and enhance commercial operation. So think smart and use focused materiality to slink out of your sustainability straitjacket.