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3 Key Takeaways from Engaging an Industry in Sustainability

Image credit: The Vinyl Institute

The vinyl industry recently marked its first “sustainability community anniversary” — that moment where industry leaders came together to pledge to embark on our sustainability journey. In the year since, we’ve adopted common sustainability positioning focused on doing more with less, agreed on a purpose-driven continuous improvement path forward, formed the Vinyl Business and Sustainability Council (VBSC), and initiated an industry-wide materiality assessment.

There’s still much work to do.

As we look ahead, we also wanted to look back and reflect on the lessons learned in Year 1 from engaging an industry on sustainability. Because guiding an industry-wide initiative requires an understanding of not only the joint path forward but also the competing demands on individual companies and their corporate leaders.

Here’s what we’ve learned.

You need to understand motivation in a voluntary world.

The vinyl industry’s sustainability initiative is a voluntary initiative in a business world filled with regulations, requirements and stakeholder-driven considerations. This means, in order to make sustainability a priority for each participating company, you have to understand what makes that business tick.

What motivates you to participate in a sustainability initiative?

Some companies are motivated by doing the right thing. Other businesses want to position themselves as promoting more social justice. Some are excited by the business opportunities that come with being a more sustainable brand. And then there are those who’ve already implemented sustainability initiatives within their businesses and are motivated to join an industry-wide effort in order to be recognized for their leadership in this arena.

While some companies are just now dipping their toes into the purpose-driven sustainability pool, others have been wading in here for a while. Recognition and sustainability proof points for past and ongoing corporate initiatives matter in motivating an industry to continuous improvement.

You need patience and perseverance.

Different companies across all sectors of various industries are at different stages of understanding sustainability, not to mention integrating it into their business practices. The vinyl industry is no different. It’s important for us to, repeatedly, address the questions, “Why are we doing this?” and “Why do we need sustainability?”

Engaging an industry on sustainability requires perseverance. This means talking to corporate boards and at industry events about the importance of having a plan and doing this work. It means ongoing training, education and showcasing the progress companies and your industry have made to date. For the vinyl industry, for example, that includes highlighting everything from smarter resin manufacturing that significantly reduced or eliminated worker exposure to vinyl chlorine monomer to vinyl roofing “takeback” programs that reclaim and reuse most of the material back into the manufacturing process. These are steps in our journey.

In addition, we’ve learned over the past year that we must continuously talk about our sustainability strategy — that we have a strategy and a vision, and that we have an integrated, balanced approach that is powerful and simple enough to be followed by individual companies, and adapted and applied within their own organizational contexts.

You need to embrace communication.

Finally, engaging an industry on sustainability requires constant communication.

While this final takeaway follows from the earlier ones, it nonetheless is critical to understand on its own. Because as excited as some companies might be to endorse and participate in an industry sustainability program, they will inevitably lose steam and motivation if they are not continuously engaged with updates and information about gains, hurdles, innovations and next steps.

After all, we’re asking business leaders to embrace sustainability as a pillar of their own business strategy. This means they will need to embed sustainability, over time, within their own companies and tie progress to business units, personnel performance and financial strength.

This isn’t easy work. But doing sustainability right is vital for the future of the vinyl industry — and our planet. And the results for both will make this journey worthwhile.

Cristian Barcan leads the Vinyl Institute’s overall campaign to advance the vinyl industry’s sustainability commitment and progress, and builds positive relationships with key influencers. Cristian has over two decades experience in the chemical industry, working for BASF and UL in… [Read more about Cristian Barcan]

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