Most companies
have sustainability
goals – but few have
an action plan to achieve them

Despite the challenges associated with sustainability, companies are committed to change.

January 25, 2021

Climate change has spurred action on the part of organisations across the globe. In fact, 90% of CEOs claim that sustainability is critical to driving business success.

Such a statistic underscores an important fact: despite the challenges associated with sustainability, companies are committed to change. In my work with clients, I’ve personally seen more ambitious and aggressive commitments than ever before, even against the backdrop of a global pandemic. The biggest challenge I see? The distance between making a pledge and hitting the targets. Companies that leave this to chance often flounder or spend more time and effort backtracking a few years into their sustainability journey than if they had prepared a little further at the start. The solution is a clear and time-bound action plan.

Without an action plan, even the most well-intentioned sustainability promises are empty. However, an action plan can be designed with achievable steps that most companies – no matter the size – can easily follow.

Translating sustainability ambitions into action at JLL

As a case in point, here’s how JLL is closing the sustainability ambitions/action gap. Our purpose is to shape the future of real estate for a better world – and our commitment to sustainability is one important way in which we achieve this purpose. That’s why we’ve established Science Based Targets to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by almost 70% by 2034 and committed to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030. We’ve stated our sustainability ambitions and the timelines – so the question then becomes, how will we achieve them?  

This is where the real work begins: we’ve developed a concrete sustainability action plan to chart our path forward, requiring some serious legwork. Here’s where we started:

  • Aligning to specific sustainability reporting frameworks (at JLL, we’ve chosen to align to the TCFD, Integrated Reporting (<IR>), CDP, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and GRI).
  • Clearly defining and tracking our carbon footprint, including developing a detailed understanding of what drives our footprint – enabling us to identify where we can make improvements and measuring performance against our targets. 
  • Determining the specific actions that we need to take to make our ambitions a reality, capitalizing immediately on the low-hanging fruit opportunities to reduce emissions while strategically planning for more long-term projects and investments.
  • Building a budget based on our goals and commitment timelines and addressing gaps early-on.
  • Acknowledging the challenges we expect to face and engaging senior leadership to help overcome them.
  • Engaging the whole firm in our sustainability journey – rather than relying on just a handful of people to own it and drive progress.
  • Taking the time to celebrate early milestones with stakeholders.

The end result? An action plan that outlines exactly what tactical steps we need to take and when, in order to meet our ambitious sustainability goals – along with a business case for where we need additional budget and resources.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far and what you should know as you craft your own action plan.

Be clear on what sustainability outcomes matter most to your organisation

Are you looking to drive cost savings? Reduce your carbon footprint? Better engage your workforce? Address investor expectations? Stay ahead of regulation? All of the above and more? Many organisations begin their sustainability journey by launching a grab-bag of initiatives without clearly defining their goals, and what they need to achieve. The clearer you are in understanding what drives you, the more focused your action plan will be.

Choose how you will report to the market

Many of our clients choose to participate in voluntary sustainability reporting frameworks. Whether you are reporting through GRESB, CDP, or other reporting frameworks, you need to get your arms around your reporting requirements and establish a measurement and reporting process to match.

Establish a mechanism to track performance

Once you know what frameworks you’ll use for reporting and what you need to measure, your next step is to figure out how you’ll gather the data you need to effectively measure performance. A solid data strategy will enable you to capture the data once in a clean, consistent way and then report it out to different audiences.

If you’re still using spreadsheets to measure and track, you’re missing out on opportunities to automate, analyse, and visualise your data – not to mention, getting frustrated every time a massive data set crashes your entire system. Many legacy tech systems present similar challenges. The good news: there are plenty of tech platforms that can help make the measurement and reporting process less painful, alleviating a great deal of stress and work for the teams that handle this data. By way of example, many of our clients rely on JLL’s proprietary environmental reporting product to help them set baselines, benchmark, build budgets, and analyse emissions data.

Determine the specific actions that you’ll take - starting with low-hanging fruit

While you devise your action plan, you can start with easy-to-reach goals. Inevitably you will find lots of opportunities to make quick progress on sustainability without requiring massive upfront investment. Make sure to:

  • Identify no/low cost enhancements to reduce energy consumption. Energy audits are an efficient way to pinpoint these opportunities.
  • Prioritise buildings by type so that you can hone-in on the spaces that use the most energy (like data centers and manufacturing facilities).
  • Review the current state of your equipment: this covers everything from air conditioning and heating systems to lighting or vehicle fleets. In order to budget, you will need to set a baseline for how systems and equipment are performing today and where you have planned upgrades. Then, compare this against your carbon reduction goals to decide what upgrades and changes need to happen now or in the future. From there, you can back into the costs associated with the necessary upgrades and map out budgets, resources and timing. The best plans are multi-year and tied directly to your goals.
  • Manage utility bills across your enterprise to save money. Automating payment across your portfolio simplifies administration and saves on processing costs.
  • Install long-lasting LED lighting to save energy and decrease your costs. Lighting retrofits are an easy way to contribute to sustainability targets across your enterprise.
  • Tap local incentive programs. Many municipalities or local authorities offer environmental programs that include rebates for businesses that follow sustainable practices. These incentive schemes may help turn a good business case into a great one.
Build your budget based on commitments and timelines (not today’s budget)

Many well-intentioned sustainability programs struggle because they’re underfunded relative to the goals that have been set. To avoid this pitfall, you need to budget based on the actions you need to take and timelines, rather than relying on current budgets alone. Keep an eye on your primary drivers – your goals were likely set with big picture outcomes in mind, and now is not the time to lose sight of these drivers through a business-as-usual budget. By having a clear picture of the OPEX and CAPEX investments required to meet your sustainability goals, and the value that these goals seek to deliver, you’ll have an easier time building the business case you need to get additional funding.

Planning ahead of time for CAPEX budgets is particularly important, given the longer lead time for approvals, the complexity of capital project schedules, and risks associated with multiple dependencies. Because these types of projects have a longer ramp-up time (and can be derailed at multiple points in the process), it’s especially important that you plan strategically.

Don’t forget to celebrate your successes

As you build your action plan, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work that needs to be done to achieve your sustainability ambitions. To keep morale up and momentum building, make sure to celebrate at key milestones and share your success with all your stakeholders. Taking time to recognize quick wins is a surefire way to sustain (no pun intended) your team’s energy and enthusiasm over the long haul.

To learn more about how JLL can help you translate your net zero ambitions into action, click here