Creating a sustainability culture: a how to from Hexagon Italy

When an iceberg melts, it melts from underneath.

Carbon emissions, deforestation, polluted oceans are all high profile, high visibility causes, ut they are the tip of the iceberg, an iceberg melting slowly from underneath.

It must take a lot of courage to be a climate activist in a high profile demonstration. But what about challenging gender stereotypes that have been entrenched since time immemorial? How about changing the way people have spoken to each other every day of their lives for generations? To become truly sustainable we must address the unseen or often overlooked problems of equality.

Sustainability is more than a buzzword, it’s a way of life that extends far beyond high-profile issues like carbon emissions, deforestation, and polluted oceans. Creating a sustainability culture starts with the fundamental principles of equality and social justice.

Beginning with Hexagon’s sustainability strategy document (available here), we asked the question that we should all ask ourselves: What does this document mean to us? How can we make it relevant to our specific situation?

The answer lay in addressing the core beliefs and values that often go unnoticed in our daily lives. First, it’s important to understand that company culture doesn’t come from the boardroom. It comes from the hearts and minds of every employee. It’s the sum of every action, every interaction and every attitude.

Mission statements and values on paper often ring hollow, because culture is not a top-down concept. Instead, it flows from the bottom up. The most effective leaders lead by example, setting commitments and inspiring the entire organisation to follow suit.

Sustainability is a culture. It’s a way of living. HR can lead by example, but for a real change, it must permeate every part of the business. Big projects are impressive, but they are constructed from small, incremental steps.

Initiating change: Local commitments and global impact

In Italy, this transformation began with tangible, local commitments that would create a visible impact. Initiatives included reducing paper usage, implementing smart working policies, and lowering energy consumption. Yet, the real power lies in the social actions taken to promote diversity and inclusion and addressing gender inequalities that seem to permeate STEM organisations.

We organised training sessions and workshops to tackle gender stereotypes and language biases. Some of which were designed for managers to promote diversity and inclusion in leadership positions, complemented by tailored training and coaching for women.

Overcoming the barriers

Italy faced a big challenge because of the gendered nature of its language. Simple greetings, like “good morning,” are gendered, with the default being masculine. This feature of the language introduces gender bias as an part of daily life. Overcoming this is a crucial step in building a sustainability culture.

A sustainable future can only be built on the solid foundation of social justice and equal opportunities. These two aspects are fundamentally interconnected, and addressing one without the other is impossible.

The challenges are compounded by the diverse nature of the business. It’s spread over nearly 10 different locations in Italy, each with its own way of doing things, its own history and unique situation.

Measuring Success

The ideal situation is all employees engaged, taking action not just words. We want to hear the conversations at the coffee station reflecting equality and sustainability, that all employees will strongly believe in what we are doing.

The team are seeing real results. The gender gap is closing. They’ve organised special recruitment fairs for women in higher education. They’ve created friends and family days at the production facilities where more women are getting involved with factory tours, showing that there is no reason why these should be male dominated areas.

“After the diversity and inclusion training we see women have more courage, more power. They believe in themselves. When there is a meeting of 10 men and 1 woman, it’s difficult to be heard. It’s hard to stand up and say ‘I am here, I want to say what I am thinking’. Now I see that every day.”

The bestcase scenario is when none of this will be necessary anymore. When they won the award, the newspaper ran the following headline:

“Lavoriamo ogni giorno affinché non accada nulla” – we work every day so that nothing happens.


  • Elisabetta Sciacca

    Elisabetta Sciacca, a seasoned professional and Head of HR in South East Europe, resides in Italy. With extensive experience in, she shares expertise and advocacy to drive positive change and equality in organisations.

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