Sustainability Is Social


Sustainability Is Social
© Nuthawut

Much of the discussion about sustainability in the lubricants industry usually focuses on economic and environmental factors. An equally important but often overlooked aspect of sustainability is social sustainability. 

True sustainability requires action on three pillars: environmental, economic and social. For lubricants organizations, new technologies and solutions deliver greater efficiency with lower environmental impact. Changing legislation and consumer demand increase the economic and environmental business case for sustainability. But when it comes to social sustainability, it becomes more challenging to define what it is and find ways to implement it.

The global economy is recovering from a significant period of upheaval, with geopolitical unrest and a pandemic making recent years some of the most challenging socio-economic times in modern history. Social sustainability is a critical element in business success, and some in the lubricants industry are embracing this by pledging to make meaningful organizational and cultural changes to create a more innovative, higher-performing workforce.

What Is Social Sustainability?

The United Nations’ definition of social sustainability focuses on doing business in a way that benefits and protects society—identifying and managing business impacts on people. Both directly and indirectly, companies affect what happens to employees, workers in the value chain, customers and local communities. Social sustainability requires assertive management of these impacts. 

In business, social sustainability demands a process for creating organizations that promote well-being by understanding what people need from the places they live and work. This can mean providing safe spaces and developing the ability to support, engage, evolve and live healthy lives. Socially sustainable organizations have the capacity to shape and benefit from change by cultivating diversity, quality of life, equality and inclusive leadership. 

Actions taken to achieve social sustainability may unlock new markets, help retain and attract business partners or be the source of innovation for new products or services. Internal morale and employee engagement may rise, while productivity, risk management and company-community relations improve. After all, most businesses do not thrive when society struggles.

The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides a blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of which human rights is the cornerstone. The four goals that are vital for creating social sustainability in the lubricants industry are:

  • GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being
  • GOAL 4: Quality Education
  • GOAL 5: Gender Equality
  • GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

The social sustainability dimension concerns well-being, justice, power, rights and the needs of the individual. The work on social sustainability also covers the human rights of specific groups: general laborers, women, children, indigenous peoples and people with disabilities. Social sustainability fosters people-centered approaches to business impacts on poverty. 

A goal that is particularly important for the lubricants workplace is equality, which can be viewed through a lens of diversity and inclusion. The very first step toward implementing a social sustainability strategy is to provide individuals with a workplace where they can be themselves and contribute to the best of their abilities. Inclusive workplaces ensure that employees have a safe environment to undergo big structural changes and behavioral shifts, turning sustainability efforts into success.

Embedding Diversity in Sustainability

Diversity and inclusion enable organizations to attract a wider pool of talented workers who can provide lubricant companies with insight into untapped markets, products, services and working practices.

With the impending retirement of thousands of industry professionals who make a significant contribution to the lubricants industry, there is a need and an opportunity to promote the industry to a wider audience and recruit more diverse talent.

By highlighting the role of lubricants in sustainability initiatives, companies can attract top talent that is currently choosing sectors other than downstream oil.

The industry needs to establish a compelling narrative and communicate the value of what it does. By highlighting the role of lubricants in sustainability initiatives, companies can attract top talent that is currently choosing sectors other than downstream oil. These are exciting times for the industry as it works toward the goal of attracting the right talent and retaining skilled staff. 

Promoting Equality in the Workplace

Equality in the workplace means an absence of discrimination as well as equal opportunity for everyone. Employees who feel valued and heard are more inclined to support the organizational policies and work toward a common objective. This can improve company performance and profitability. 

Greater gender balance in leadership roles creates enormous economic opportunities, improved organizational performance and long-term societal and environmental advantages.

The benefits of equal opportunity are countless. Greater gender balance in leadership roles creates enormous economic opportunities, improved organizational performance and long-term societal and environmental advantages. Gender equality in the workplace can help unleash more than $12 trillion in new market value linked to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, according to “Better Leadership, Better World” research.

Inclusive Leadership for Sustainable Governance

Leaders who are aware of inclusive leadership practices typically make more conscious and fair decisions. These leaders can leverage the wealth of knowledge, insights and perspectives that diverse teams offer by creating an open and trusting workplace. By truly valuing diversity, inclusive leaders unlock the competitive advantage that workplaces generate, becoming a magnet for the top talent.

The 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that the modern workforce overwhelmingly believes that profits alone do not make a successful business, pointing to additional priorities—including an emphasis on diversity and inclusion in the workplace. At the same time, roughly two-thirds of survey participants—those born between 1983 and 1999—believe that business leaders “pay lip service” to diversity and inclusion.

In essence, if lubricants organizations want to build a socially sustainable business, employee trust must be earned through action. Leaders need to show personal commitment and take responsibility for making it happen. This is equally important for attracting talent, too.

Social Sustainability in the Lubricants Industry

In the lubricants industry, companies are doubling down on their efforts to create more inclusive and diverse workplaces. 

For instance, Lubrizol has embraced policies and programs that recognize and nurture a diverse and inclusive workforce, including training related to bias and inclusion and a strong network of employee resource groups. In 2021, Lubrizol appointed the company’s first chief diversity officer as a part of its ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion as a vital enabler of business success. 

Diversity, equality and inclusion have been embraced by additives manufacturer Infineum. The company aims for equity throughout the complete colleague life cycle, with a particular focus on external recruitment, internal development and appointments as well as the systems that underpin their support infrastructure. Its goals for 2025 are to ensure that its leadership population is progressively reflective of the communities in which it operates, aiming for greater representation of women in leadership positions as well as ethnic minorities to hold more senior roles in the organization.

Similarly, the compensation philosophy at Afton Chemical ensures internal equity, and the company provides market competitive total rewards, including competitive base pay and a comprehensive benefits package, to attract, motivate and retain employees. As reported in its annual regulatory filings, the company’s ratio of CEO annual compensation to median employee compensation is 22:1. Its female-to-male pay ratio is 100%, demonstrating no gap in pay for female employees compared to male employees in similar roles.

Additionally, the company supports programs in its community through the NewMarket Foundation, which focuses on education, health, social services and cultural activities that improve the quality of life in the communities in which it operates. 

Another lubricants company taking action toward social sustainability is Azelis. In 2019, the company established Azelis Americas University, a new program focusing on developing a new generation of talent. The program recruits candidates for the CASE market segment (coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomers) from on-campus recruitment at such select universities as Texas A&M, the University of Georgia, the University of Cincinnati and the University of Texas. The chosen candidates move through a rotation program to learn about the company, products and businesses.

All these initiatives demonstrate how the lubricants industry can be a force for good. 

Attracting a New Wave of Talent

Increasingly, younger people are placing emphasis on meaningful work over high salaries. To attract talent, your company’s message of meaningful work needs to reach the next generation of budding scientists, engineers and technicians. Given the talent acquisition challenges facing lubricants organizations, it is more important than ever to reconsider a business’ social sustainability policies. By ignoring this growing desire, lubricant businesses risk restricting their access to a young, talented and socially responsible workforce.

To attract talent, your company’s message of meaningful work needs to reach the next generation of budding scientists, engineers and technicians.

To attract more talent, lubricants organizations can start by incorporating the following steps:

  • Showcase employee-driven sustainability initiatives to illustrate how they are tied to efforts to create a meaningful and rewarding work environment.
  • Explicitly describe company values that drive specific social sustainability actions, like commitment to equal and fair pay or contributions the company makes to the local communities in which it operates.
  • Show job seekers how sustainability is infused in daily work activities, training programs, reward systems, and operational practices and objectives. 
  • Highlight management’s commitment to sustainability. Leaders set the tone on values and organizational culture, so use leaders as role models. 
  • Deliver clear, specific and captivating messages to job seekers about how sustainability practices are connected to the work environment. Move away from vague social sustainability statements, like “our company takes care of employees.” How do you care about your people? What feedback and examples do your employees give you about care? These make great case studies to promote.

By creating a work environment that is more participative, inclusive and receptive to different mindsets, leaders can build cognitively diverse human capital for an organization, enabling the organization to tap into new opportunities and attract top talent.

The future of work has long been a key concern for the lubricants industry, with demography, technology, climate change and evolving consumer attitudes all contributing to an increasingly complex landscape for organizations to navigate. These trends significantly accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizations have an ideal opportunity to reconsider the type of workplace they want and need in the future. Putting social sustainability at the center will be crucial for the lubricants industry to build and maintain the trust of their customers, suppliers and employees.  

Ewa Ozga is marketing manager of ABN Resource, responsible for communicating about the lubricants industry to a wider audience and helping the downstream oil sector to retain and attract top talent.

James Moorhouse is founder and director of ABN Resource, a global executive search firm hiring executives, commercial and technical personnel for the lubricants, additive and base oil industries.

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