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Building a sustainability conscience

Author: Zoi Kontodimou, Chair of the CQI's Sustainability Special Interest Group

To celebrate World Quality Week 2022, Chair of the CQI’s Sustainability Special Interest Group, Zoi Kontodimou, discusses the concept of a sustainability conscience.

As more organisations become aware of their social impact, many words and phrases have grown in popularity. One of the most popular of those words is sustainability, as well as all the words that go along with it, such as carbon neutral, net zero, diversity, inclusion, corporate governance, environmental, social and governance (ESG), and so many more.

But how should we approach sustainability? And how should we work towards an organisation that is not only sustainable itself, but also contributes to environmental integrity, social equity, and economic prosperity – the principles of sustainable development, as well as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

A sustainability conscience means that all sustainability risks are addressed and managed, and all sustainability opportunities are taken advantage of...

Transforming processes with a sustainability conscience

The answer is quite simple; by developing its quality conscience into a sustainability conscience. We need to take the things that an organisation uses successfully and that already drives continuous improvement – such as its quality practices, risk-based approaches, and management systems – and transform them by building in a sustainability conscience from the start. If we can incorporate corporate sustainability elements into policies, objectives, and processes, as well as its overall corporate strategy, we can turn them once again into a competitive advantage.

A sustainability conscience means that all sustainability risks are addressed and managed, and all sustainability opportunities are taken advantage of, so that the organisation improves over time, has impeccable product stewardship, and contributes to the common good.

Addressing sustainability risks

Sustainability risks relate to all the functions of an organisation. In order for them to be addressed and managed, an organisation should use the existing risk management system, which ought to be enhanced in order to also include ESG risks. Relevant controls should be established so that sustainability risks are mitigated and those controls should be addressed with the same rigor as the rest of the company’s controls.  

Preparing for a sustainability conscience as an auditor

Internal audit plans will include more and more sustainability issues, and so internal auditors should be sure to allocate enough time to assess them, since they are as important as the remaining auditable issues of an organisation. The audit committees will also review more non-financial results so that the company improves not only its financial performance but also its overall impact on the environment and society, through this process, and its overall value. 

Preparing for the future

There is a growing urge for organisations to have more accountability, and I believe that sustainability information will increasingly be included in a company’s annual reports – the number of companies that issue such reports is expected to at least triple in the next five years. As 2050 approaches, companies will have to reach net zero so that we, as a global community, can achieve the Paris agreement. And in order for a company to be accountable and transparent, a sustainability conscience is in order.  

Corporate sustainability is an activity that should be managed, and due to its complexity and multidisciplinary nature, this should be done through a systems approach. A company’s corporate sustainability management system should be governance-oriented and functionality based, and what better way to achieve this, than developing it on its existing management systems? And of course who would be better suited to lead this change, than the quality professionals that have the mentality, ethics, training, and willingness to do the right thing? All of us that can make a difference once again, by creating a sustainability conscience.

Are you passionate about quality and sustainability? Why not join the CQI's Sustainability Special Interest Group to share your knowledge and learn from other experts in the sector.