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The UK Government is proposing that listed companies and financial institutions publish their net-zero transition plans by 2023 in a bid to increase transparency and ensure public accountability for sustainability action.1 Greater visibility over an organisation’s targets, and how it intends to achieve them, is critical if the government is to meet its net-zero plans. The real value will come, however, when businesses turn their intentions into actions by creating a collective culture of stakeholder responsibility.

Given the complexity and ambition of net-zero plans, businesses must not overlook the importance of effective stakeholder engagement. Meeting these targets is not just the responsibility of sustainability professionals. Instead, collaboration and collective effort is needed across the board. Organisations need to energise, empower and mobilise internal and external stakeholders to get behind their plans and commit to action.

Focusing on three important groups – employees, customers and suppliers – we explore why they hold the key to unlocking the benefits of your sustainability strategy.


When it comes to your sustainability strategy, your employees need to have fundamental knowledge of sustainability and understand your overarching vision. Upskilling, training and engagement will help to ensure your sustainability strategy is influencing your employees’ daily judgements – whether those are investment decisions, supplier choices or internal HR policies. Making this personal and relevant will help encourage individual buy-in and ensure the vision is absorbed.

As an oil and gas company, BP’s transition to net zero is a huge transformation, requiring drastic changes to business and operating models. This change calls for employees to fundamentally change the way they navigate both their professional and personal lives.


According to IBM’s recent study, customer resistance is a major barrier to achieving sustainable outcomes, contradicting the data that customers are increasingly demanding more sustainable brands and products.2 The ‘say-do gap’ demonstrates that technology and business model innovation alone are not enough for organisations to make headway on their targets.3 Encouraging consumers to change their behaviour is vital to fully realising sustainability benefits.

The ‘Love for Longer’ campaign, launched by our partner agency Havas, is an example of changing consumer behaviour.4 Recognising the growing culture of disposable fast fashion, with garments carelessly thrown out because of a stain that could have been removed, Havas helped Vanish define a higher purpose to drive behavioural change, encouraging consumers to love their clothes for longer. The campaign, which revolved around a high-profile, awareness-raising, television commercial, also spanned social influencer engagement, PR and experiential marketing – with clothes literally saved from landfill, washed with Vanish and resold ‘as new’ in shops (before the ‘reveal’).


The environmental impact of many organisations sits within upstream and downstream activities (scope 3 emissions). So, without effective supplier engagement with their sustainability strategy, they will be limited in terms of how much they can achieve.

Influencing supply chains can be challenging given the large number of players, complexity of operations and lack of transparency. Sustainability leaders will be those who – with their suppliers, through partnerships and by adopting change levers – actively seek to change the system.

We’re increasingly seeing organisations putting more emphasis on this, with ethics and sustainability being a key part of their supplier engagement. Barclays’ recent retail report highlighted this, with 79% of retailers agreeing that improving sustainable and ethical credentials over the long term is more important than overcoming short-term supply chain disruption.5


Meaningful change will only occur when organisations take a system-based approach and are aware of their stakeholder landscape, understanding how to best bring each group (employees, customers, suppliers and beyond) on the journey and involve them in decision-making. It’s important to recognise that the motivators, drivers and barriers of each group will be very different and therefore a tailored approach is required. Here are five key steps that organisations can follow on their sustainability journey.

1. Develop a clear sustainability change narrative

Focus on developing a clear and concise change narrative for your sustainability vision, so that you can easily communicate with your stakeholders on what you want to achieve and how you need their support.

2. Map your stakeholders to understand your sphere of influence

Using tools such as a blast diagram, identify and map all internal and external stakeholders that need to play a part in the strategy, and capture how they could be affected.

3. Capture the drivers and blockers for your transformation

Assess the ability and willingness of your stakeholders to make the decisions and demonstrate the behaviours needed to support the sustainability transformation. You will foresee potential negative reactions and be able to develop an appropriate action plan to address them. This will be different for each stakeholder group.

4. Understand the change impact

Complete a change impact assessment to understand what planned transformation changes mean for each stakeholder group, helping you to choose the right approach and action needed to generate buy-in from each group and manage the impacts.

5. Create a tailored engagement plan

Using the results of your analysis, create an engagement plan that is tailored to each of your stakeholder groups, ensuring you include ‘what’s in it for me?’ and appropriate feedback mechanisms to adapt and continuously improve.


Raising the profile of your sustainability transformation both internally and externally should not be an afterthought. Unleashing the full potential of your ambitions will require energy and backing from all groups. As part of your transformation, you should also invest in the appropriate culture, change and communication initiatives to maximise the benefits.

Read the second part of the seriesBoosting sustainability through your people.

Jess Gregory

The time is now for businesses to take action to show they are a key part of the solution and not just the problem. Gate One can help businesses to overcome the challenges and explore the opportunities being a sustainable business unlocks.

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