Far too often, corporate responsibility and sustainability programs are disconnected from the core strategy and operations of an organization. Sustainability practitioners are designated with a tall order to transform the organization to minimize its negative environmental and social impacts while maximizing the value of sustainability for its stakeholders. Frequently, they have a mandate without power to execute the vision set forth.

Perhaps they find themselves isolated in an EHS (compliance) department or a similar non-revenue generating function with no access to the C-suite. Practitioners armed with a broad set of soft personal skills, and cunning enough to navigate the hierarchy of an organization, often can find limited success. Some gain success as they learn more about the organization and find allies and champions throughout. That said, the success achieved is tied to the individual practitioner’s perseverance and relationships, not because the organization has created a sustained program that is institutionalized by a formal governance structure.

Embracing good governance

Successful sustainability and corporate responsibility programs not only do great things for their organizations, they also are governed and engaged in a way that connects with the organization vertically and horizontally. In order to achieve this, establishing a governance structure to guide and manage sustainability and corporate responsibility is essential. By doing so, the group responsible for driving sustainable practices has access to senior leadership and reach across core functions of the organization. This allows the program to set direction, establish goals and create policies to execute the strategy. A sound structure requires multi-level, cross functional leadership committees at the board, executive leadership and management levels of the organization.

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