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There’s No Sustainability Without Stakeholders

The Impaakt Team

10 min Read Time | May 23rd 2024

The CSRD is here and companies need to quickly grasp the requirements involved. The legislation mandates comprehensive reporting on environmental and social impacts, moving beyond traditional financial metrics, and the core element of the CSRD having a "double materiality assessment" (DMA). The DMA requires companies to assess sustainability matters from two angles: their impact on people and the environment (outside-in), and their financial relevance (inside-out). This dual perspective ensures that companies not only disclose the financial implications of sustainability issues but also acknowledge their broader societal and environmental impact.

To achieve real sustainability within the CSRD framework, effective stakeholder engagement is crucial throughout the DMA process to gain a deeper understanding of how to truly drive change.

Why Stakeholder Engagement Matters

The foundation of a successful sustainability journey lies in fostering strong relationships with stakeholders. These groups, encompassing investors, customers, employees, and communities, to name a few, have a powerful influence on a company's strategy and competitiveness. Stakeholder pressure can be a powerful force for change, allowing for better decision-making. For instance, we have often seen customer boycotts pressuring companies to improve their environmental practices, or employee activism leading to more sustainable operations.

Let’s take a look at examples of how each of these stakeholders can influence business.

Investors are no longer solely concerned with short-term profits. Today, they increasingly prioritise sustainability matters when making investment decisions. Companies with robust sustainability practices that mitigate environmental risks and promote social responsibility are demonstrably more attractive to sustainability-focused investors. For more traditional investors motivated by financial performance, companies with good sustainability performance offer a better risk profile, which is also a reason to invest in them. This shift in investor behaviour creates a compelling incentive for companies to promote sustainable products and processes.

Consumers are leveraging their purchasing power more consciously than ever before. Sustainability transparency is no longer a nice-to-have; it is a critical factor influencing consumer choices. Consumers are drawn to brands that demonstrate a genuine commitment to ethical sourcing, environmental responsibility, and societal well-being. Companies that fail to prioritise these areas, or deceive through greenwashing tactics, risk losing market share to competitors who focus on sustainability, as well as damaging their reputation.

Employees, the core of all organisations, are increasingly seeking employers whose values align with their own. A strong sustainability ethic is a key differentiator in today's employment market. Companies that focus on sustainability are more likely to attract and retain top talent, fostering a more engaged and productive workforce.

Suppliers form the backbone of a company's sustainability journey. Partnering with suppliers who concentrate on responsible sourcing, energy-efficient production, and ethical labour practices is critical. Companies with unethical practices within their supply chain can severely damage their reputation, as consumers increasingly hold businesses accountable for their entire supply chain. Transparency and collaboration with suppliers are therefore essential to mitigating these risks.

Communities are also not simply bystanders in a company’s business and are often directly impacted by a company's operations. Companies that prioritise responsible operations, such as reducing pollution or supporting local communities through employment, to name a few, can build trust with local stakeholders, fostering a more positive and sustainable operating environment.

The examples listed above are non-exhaustive, and companies should consider their entire range of stakeholders when looking at their sustainability journey. There is, however, a type of stakeholder that is often overlooked: the silent ones. These include nature and civil society. While they cannot directly voice their concerns, considering their positioning on sustainability matters will enhance a company’s impact greatly.

By engaging effectively with stakeholders across the spectrum – investors, customers, employees, communities, and others – companies can ensure their sustainability measures are comprehensive, address a wider range of concerns, and ultimately contribute to a more sustainable future.

Benefits of Stakeholder Engagement for the DMA

While the list of stakeholders is broad, it is important to understand why and how to engage these different parties. Effective stakeholder engagement is not just a box-ticking exercise; it's a critical tool for enriching the DMA process. So, how does a company go about engaging stakeholders effectively?

Stakeholder input can be instrumental in uncovering material sustainability issues that might otherwise go unnoticed. For instance, a company in the mining industry might overlook the impact of its operations on local water quality. However, through community engagement during the DMA, the company could discover concerns about water pollution and factor this into its materiality matrix, ultimately ameliorating its strategy and business model through policies, actions, and targets.

It also helps foster a deeper understanding of stakeholder priorities, concerns, and expectations regarding sustainability. This allows companies to tailor their CSRD reporting to address specific issues, enhancing the relevance and transparency of their sustainability efforts.

Similarly, stakeholders can be a valuable source of knowledge about potential risks and emerging opportunities associated with sustainability. For instance, investors might highlight the financial risks posed by climate change, encouraging the company to consider climate mitigation strategies. Or, consumers might point towards the growing market for sustainable products, encouraging the company to explore circular economy solutions.

Finally, listening and guiding stakeholders throughout the DMA strengthens the credibility and transparency of a company's sustainability reporting. Stakeholders who feel heard and involved are more likely to trust the company's reported information and hold them accountable for their sustainability commitments. Ultimately, this benefits companies by enhancing their credibility, building trust, mitigating risks, allowing for innovation and adaptation, and gaining a competitive advantage.

By incorporating stakeholder perspectives into the DMA, companies can ensure their sustainability strategies are robust and well-aligned with the needs and expectations of a diverse range of relevant stakeholder groups. Stakeholders are central to a sustainable business.

Involving stakeholders in the decision-making process from the outset can significantly improve buy-in. Bringing stakeholders together beforehand to understand the major sustainability issues fosters better understanding and support throughout the implementation process. By engaging stakeholders upstream, companies can gain valuable insights and build a more supportive ecosystem for their sustainability actions.


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