9 ways to raise your company’s sustainability ambitions in 2019

During a sustainability leadership webinar hosted by edie last week, representatives from Canary Wharf Group, Ball Corporation and PwC gave their advice for professionals looking to transform their approach to CSR in 2019, increasing actions as well as ambitions. Here, edie rounds up their key takeaways.

edie hosted its last hour-long webinar of the year on Thursday (December 6), covering business leadership in the fields of CSR, sustainability and energy to help readers hit the ground running and bolster their environmental and social commitments in 2019.


Hosted in association with GridBeyond and the 2019 Sustainability Leaders Forum, this interactive webinar heard from some of the leaders of the low-carbon revolution, who are igniting new thought-processes, behaviours and initiatives across their business in a drive to decarbonise operations and embed sustainability within the heart of their respective companies.

During the ‘power hour’ webinar, Ball Beverage Packaging Europe’s sustainability director Ramon Arratia, PwC’s director of sustainability Bridget Jackson, Canary Wharf Group’s (CWG) head of sustainability Martin Gettings and GridBeyond’s managing director Wayne Muncaster outlined how businesses can ramp up their sustainability efforts and take up leadership positions.

Topics discussed throughout the session ranged from science-based targets and single-use plastics, through to purpose-led business and 100% targets. Here, edie rounds up the speakers’ key takeaways.

Nine ways to raise your company’s sustainability ambitions in 2019

1) Ditch incremental action and set bold targets

During the webinar, panellists concluded that businesses they regard as sustainability leaders all have something in common – namely that they have moved away from setting ‘incremental’ goals regarding waste, water and carbon and begun to set bold, long-term commitments.

In terms of resource efficiency, leading businesses are beginning to undergo a “double” paradigm shift, Ball Beverage Packaging Europe’s sustainability director Arratia argued – firstly from resource efficiency to partial circularity, and then from partial circularity to ‘true’ circularity. This move, Arratia said, will require businesses to rethink their targets and business models.

“We used to talk a lot about resource efficiency, which, at the end of the day, meant making things less bad,” Arratia said. “Now, we are fast moving towards a more demanding paradigm. On top of that, we are facing a new business model – how can we deliver stuff without stuff or services without stuff? How can we deliver products without packaging?”

2) Know your markets and work to boost the ambitions of policymakers within them

Arratia emphasised the importance of fully understanding the political framework, culture and infrastructure systems which exist in the company’s markets – knowledge which has helped Ball to design recycling and resource management strategies on a “country-by-country” basis and avoid greenwash in its definition of “recyclable”. 

“We are the biggest manufacturer of aluminium beverage packaging and all the countries we cover have different collection systems and regulations for recycling,” Arratia said. “Everything we produce has to be designed for recycling and we really need to align proper design, collection, sorting and recycling systems.”

Arratia urged listeners to use market analysis to lobby for change from peers, policymakers and consumers, citing Ball’s decision to produce a roadmap to 90% recycling rates for aluminium cans in the EU as an example of this form of activism.

 3) Harness the benefits of the energy transition

As the UK’s energy system becomes increasingly decarbonised, decentralised and democratised, businesses are in a prime position to explore new “smart” solutions and set bold renewables targets in order to decarbonise their operations.

That is according to GridBeyond’s managing director Wayne Muncaster, who explained that energy efficiency technologies, demand-side response technologies andrenewable energy sourcing are not “one-size-fits-all” and that businesses should explore the solutions right for their size and sector.

“Balancing our network requires more and newer participants to get involved, and there is an increasing number of ways in which to participate,” Muncaster explained. “There is a huge amount of complexity as to how you can participate in these markets, but there is a huge amount of opportunity.”

4) Identify your ‘most material’ areas of action and start there, today

PwC’s director of sustainability Bridget Jackson explained that most corporate journeys to sustainability leadership begin with a focus on the issues most material to that particular company, as this is a “pragmatic” approach to achieving internal buy-in and engagement.

“Do the big stuff,” Jackson said. “Obviously, everyone wants to do what’s material – but the lesson isn’t so much about that one thing.  Sometimes, the way to achieve is to align your ambitions to where the momentum already is within the company.”

For Jackson, who started working for PwC almost 10 years ago, this meant “riding the technology wave” and helping businesses adopt innovative low-carbon technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and automated transport.  

5) Go beyond conformity

While acknowledging that it is important for sustainability professionals to understand the national, local and corporate culture in which they work, CWG’s head of sustainability Martin Gettings urged listeners not to be fearful of adopting a different approach to other organisations in their sectors.

“Our story started in the 1980s and the world had a very different set of values back then,” Gettings explained.

“But at CWG, we did actually have some very telling founding principles and one of the underlying ones which has helped us think differently and innovate is a notion that we are not about conformity. The mindset here has always been that of innovation and thinking slightly differently, which has allowed us to look at more ambitious sustainability targets.”

6) Keep your eyes on the horizon for the next big issue

Ball’s Arratia emphasised the importance of ‘horizon scanning’ for issues that are likely to become important to policymakers and consumers in the near future, noting that doing so would help companies to adapt more holistically before others begin making reactionary changes.

“The paradigm for the packaging sector is changing because of the whole plastic issue,” he said. “People are saying plastic is pollution, and recycling it is not good enough. Society is shifting the responsibility from citizens to companies, saying it is them who has to redesign.”

“Build a reputation for being the team that anticipates and puts in place what they don’t know they need yet,” PwC’s Jackson added. “Every planetary boundary is something you’re going to have to worry about not overshooting in the future.” 

7) Talk to consumers in a language they understand…

All of the webinar panellists agreed that consumer engagement is a key part of sustainability leadership and noted that driving behaviour change among customer bases is a significant way in which businesses can drive change outside of their operations.

However, as Arratia pointed out, communicating your sustainability strategy in a way which engages consumers is not always simple, as much jargon has to be “translated”.

“We’ve learned that consumers don’t like to be patronised – they want to have fun and you need to talk their language,” Arratia said. “Ask how you can relate to them, and the engagement will follow.”

Arratia noted that Ball’s interactive “voting” recycling bins at large-scale music and sporting events – in which users deposit a can in one of two sides in order to “cast a vote” – has proved particularly successful in this respect.

8) …And think outside of the box when it comes to internal communications

PwC’s Jackson added that sustainability professionals should always “break down” big issues when communicating with their staff and adopt a “show don’t tell” approach to storytelling around sustainability challenges, in order to drive maximum engagement with key challenges.

She cited a training session held under the firm’s ‘Going Circular’ resource programme as an example of this, as members of PwC’s procurement team were shown and taught how to dissemble end-of-life items.

“These staff have gone on feeling empowered to apply the principles they’ve learnt that day into many projects since,” Jackson said.

“It’s really important that you know your own company culture,” CWG’s Gettings added.

9) Accept that you can’t go it alone

As the webinar drew to a close, CWG’s Gettings emphasised the importance of collaboration in making progress towards bold sustainability targets.

British property giant CWG has partnered with Surfers Against Sewage in a bid to make its 16.5 million sq. ft London estate the first plastic-free zone in the capital, for example, and last year joined forces with paper cup recycler Simply Cups and biomass recycler Bio-Bean to launch its closed-loop ‘Clean Coffee Zone‘.

“It’s all very well and good doing these things as a business, but what you really have to do is enable others,” Gettings explained. “What we are doing is going beyond our own initiatives and campaigns and helping sustainability become embedded in not just our day-to-day operations, but those of our tenants and customers.”

For more top tips on this topic, you can watch the full webinar on-demand here.

edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum 2019 

This webinar featured some of the speakers appearing at edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum in 2019. The two-day event, taking place on 5-6 February 2019 at the Building Design Centre in London, will include more in-depth debates on science-based targets, how to solve the plastics crisis and the state of corporate action on sustainable packaging. 

For more information and to register for the 2019 Sustainability Leaders Forum, click here.

Sarah George

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