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Sustainability leaders are facing a myriad of challenges, but what are the most pressing issues when moving from strategy to action?

Havas Genus recently hosted its third sustainability roundtable to discuss the transformation themes identified from our research with over 80 leaders in the space.

Our insights from sustainability leaders, including Darshana Myronidis (Group Sustainability Director, Virgin), Jeremy Mathieu (Head of Sustainability, ITV) and Rosie Kitson (Chief Impact Officer, Havas UK), have uncovered the five key challenges along with practical tips on how organisations are overcoming these.


1. Regulatory readiness: There are an overwhelming number of requirements, with more time spent on reporting over driving progress.
2. Data and technology: There is an ongoing struggle for data availability and quality, as well as the manual nature of collating data.
3. Transformation readiness and capability: The lack of transformation capability is stopping organisations from embedding strategy.
4. Sustainability skills: There is a growing need for specialist skills, but budget challenges mean these roles are being de-prioritised.
5. Clear leadership and accountabilities: There can be a lack of leadership buy in and shared accountabilities across organisations.


How can organisations overcome these challenges, amid growing demand from consumers, regulators and wider markets? We’ve summarised the solutions shared by senior sustainability leaders.

Regulatory readiness

  • Use regulations as a driver: Regulatory changes, while overwhelming, should be seen as a positive. They necessitate new technologies and practices, such as carbon calculators, and can be used to push parts of the business that were previously uninvolved.
  • Manage change: Businesses must adapt to regulatory requirements and leverage changes to emphasise the importance of sustainability to stakeholders.

Data and technology

  • Leverage data-driven insights: Leveraging technology to use and understand sustainability data is critical. Data can highlight the impact of sustainability initiatives and drive better decision-making.
  • Organise your data: The challenge lies in managing and organising data effectively to create actionable insights. Ensuring the wider organisation understands the importance of the data is critical, including why it is being collected and the wider opportunities tracking it can bring to transforming your business.

Transformation readiness and capability

Long-term vision

  • Consider your end goal: The ultimate aim is for sustainability to become a core focus of every business function, where the term “sustainability” itself may no longer be necessary as it becomes inherent in all business operations. Spotting early opportunities to embed sustainability into functions and processes will accelerate this journey.
  • Use an innovation lens: Framing sustainability as innovation can make it more engaging and relevant, helping to align future business goals with sustainability objectives.


  • Focus on a team effort: Sustainability requires collaborative efforts across various teams and departments within a business. It’s important to bring all teams on the journey and get them involved in initiatives, so people understand it is everyone’s responsibility to transform and tackle sustainability challenges collectively.
  • Consider industry-wide collaboration: Sharing successes, challenges and innovations across the industry is crucial. There’s a need for more industry-focussed success stories and shared learnings.


  • Simplify sustainability: Making sustainability relevant and understandable to different internal leaders and functions is crucial. While it may be more time-consuming, tailoring your messaging will make it more impactful.
  • Deliver effective communication: Translating global sustainability targets into locally relevant goals and using creative, engaging methods to communicate these goals is important to bring them to life.
  • Address greenwashing concerns: Businesses need confidence to share their sustainability efforts without fear of backlash, enabling greater behaviour change. Ensuring marketing and sustainability teams work together on this will avoid greenwashing risk.
  • Build communities: Creating a network of sustainability champions within different teams and setting clear frameworks and methodologies is vital to promote progress.

Sustainability skills

  • Develop skills: Identify and address potential skill gaps in sustainability, focusing on areas like risk, governance, finance and commercial skills. There’s a need for leaders and sustainability teams to conduct horizon scanning to ensure they can upskill themselves on future needs.
  • Make training mandatory: Embedding sustainability champions and making sustainability training mandatory can help build the necessary skills across the wider business. General training on the importance of sustainability and your strategy and more tailored training for the different teams will have the greatest impact.

Leadership and accountabilities

  • Ensure ownership across functions: Sustainability should be integrated into every aspect of the business, making it a compliance, legal, financial, commercial and procurement issue.
  • Distribute responsibility: It’s essential for sustainability to be seen as a shared responsibility rather than an add-on cost. Ensure there are performance metrics across all leadership members, as well as being built into each P&L.
  • Implement purpose-driven decision making: Implement systems to track and monitor decisions against sustainability targets ensures alignment with sustainability goals.


Moving from strategy to action is a challenge all organisations are struggling with. The regulatory and data burden is preventing many organisations from moving forward at the pace required, and it will mean a greater focus on the people elements of transformation including skills, engagement, collaboration and accountabilities is needed to really drive accelerated action and change.

Jen Nixon

If you’d like to attend any of our future roundtables or if you would like us to share our research and insights, please get in touch.

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