By Madeleine Cobb, Sustainability Manager, Virgin Atlantic Airways –
The principles of materiality are helpful in sustainability strategy planning. They’re helpful for organisations that are new to setting a sustainability strategy as it provides a framework. And they’re also helpful for those organisations that are already on their sustainability journey as it can provide some credibility to the strategy and keep it relevant. The trick is to not get too bogged down in the detail and find a process that works for your organisation.
So wherever your organisation is on the sustainability spectrum, where to start? First off, trust your instinct. You know what your organisation’s environmental and social impacts are. At Virgin Atlantic we know that our biggest environmental impact is the greenhouse gas emissions from flying our aircraft, so that’s where we focus our efforts; buying new fuel efficient aircraft and pioneering new sustainable fuels. Your greenhouse gas inventory will hold one answer. For social impact, we focus on noise mitigation and community investment in some of the destinations we fly to. These priorities may seem obvious for an airline; no one said sustainability materiality had to be difficult.
The next step is to ascertain what your stakeholders think. What’s important to them? This outreach can be as big or small as required, depending on whether you’re starting out or doing a strategy refresh. The results may or may not surprise you…
But materiality doesn’t have to be just a risk management approach. There are lots of opportunities out there to change things for the better. As a consumer-facing brand, we recognise the value in addressing things that our customers directly experience. For example we ensure that the food and drink we serve is ethically sourced, and we’ve incorporated recycled content into our cabin crew’s uniforms. This gives us the opportunity to engage with our customers and bring sustainability to life.
The success of a sustainability strategy lies in buy-in from your leadership team or board and their commitment to embed it into the organisation. The materiality assessment will help define the priorities and how you communicate with your internal and external stakeholders.
Customers are increasingly expecting organisations to be values-based and before everyone realises that sustainability and changing business for good makes complete business sense, use it as a brand differentiator.
Virgin Atlantic Airways
+44 (0)1293 448533