The Journey of Sustainability maturity: From Disregard to Purpose

By | Last Updated: 13 March 2024

Organizations usually begin their sustainability journey under the influence of external market forces such as regulations and customer demands. However, as they progress, the motivation shifts from external to internal, leading to the creation of substantial sustainable change. This transformation is beautifully encapsulated in the sustainability maturity model, which outlines a progression through various stages - from Disregard to Purpose. Let's unpack these stages one by one.


Illustration based on PWC model.

Stage 0: Disregard

At this initial stage, businesses operate without considering the environmental impact of their actions. It's a stage fewer and fewer companies find themselves in, given the global push towards sustainability.

Stage 1: Compliance

Here, companies start to take action primarily to meet legal requirements. It's about minimizing risks and ensuring operations don't run afoul of environmental regulations.

Stage 2: Obligation

Moving a step further, businesses at this stage respond to external pressures beyond just regulations. This could be customer demand for sustainable products or practices. It's about starting to proactively address sustainability, albeit driven by external factors.

Stage 3: Efficiency

At this juncture, companies realize that optimizing their processes for environmental efficiency can lead to cost savings. Sustainability starts to become a part of operational decision-making, often spearheaded by dedicated sustainability personnel.

Stage 4: Leadership

Businesses that reach this stage see sustainability as a core part of their brand and a driver of long-term success. They innovate with sustainability in mind, driven by an internal commitment rather than external pressures.

Stage 5: Purpose

The pinnacle of the sustainability maturity model, purpose-driven companies, integrate sustainability into every decision. It's not about balancing profit and sustainability; it's about prioritizing sustainability in a way that still allows for profitability.

Key Factors in Advancing Sustainability

Two critical factors play a role in moving through these stages: Accountability and Ownership.

  • Accountability involves setting and tracking Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) related to environmental performance at various stages of the maturity model. It's about measuring progress and ensuring sustainability goals are met.
  • Ownership asks the question of who within the organization is responsible for driving sustainability. As companies progress, this responsibility moves from being an ad-hoc obligation of various departments to a dedicated role within the company's leadership.
  • Skills: sustainability, capacity building means building soft and hard skills and competencies to empower sustainable change. But it all starts with awareness and fundamentals.

Wrapping Up

The journey through the sustainability maturity model is not just about changing practices but about shifting mindsets. It's a testament to how far a company has come in integrating sustainability into its core operations, culture and philosophy. Each step forward represents a deeper commitment to not just the bottom line but to the planet and future generations.

Businesses at different stages of this model have unique challenges and opportunities. By understanding where they stand and what lies ahead, they can strategically navigate their path towards becoming leaders in sustainability. This journey is crucial, not just for the individual businesses but for the collective effort to address global environmental challenges.

As we look towards a more sustainable future, the question for businesses isn't whether to embark on this journey, but how quickly and effectively they can progress. The sustainability maturity model offers a roadmap for this essential transformation.

This deep dive into the sustainability maturity model and its stages should arm you with the knowledge to understand and assess the environmental performance journey of businesses. Let's all play our part in encouraging and supporting this transition, for the sake of our planet and future generations.

How can I get started on this journey?

The sustainability maturity curve illustrates the various benchmarks to be satisfied rather than viewing sustainability as something static with a distinct beginning and end. The framework can help you move closer to your sustainable goals and is applicable to a wide range of organizations, independent of size, industry, or territory. With practical Bootcamps offerings, Skills 4 Impact helps you advance along the curve, from awareness to action.

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