As it happened: edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum & Awards 2019

The live blog was updated throughout the Sustainability Leaders Forum and Awards

edie’s blog ran for the duration of the Forum (5-6 February) and the Awards (6 February), offering behind-the-scenes access and exclusive interviews for our readers.

You can scroll down to experience all of the action, as it happened. However, we’ve also rounded up ten of our key takeaways from this jam-packed two-day period in the form of quotes from our speakers and delegates.

1) Collaboration will always be key

“The [low-carbon transition] is about partnership,” Energy Minister Claire Perry said.

“I don’t think any one group, whether it be Government, businesses or civil society, are going to solve this alone. The reason I came [to the Sustainability Leaders Forum] was because I wanted to reach out and make the conversation happen about the partnership and what we need to do together.”

2) It’s not too late to make a difference

“The future is in everyone’s hands,” former Unilever chief executive Paul Polman told the Sustainability Leaders Awards as he accepted his Lifetime Achievement trophy. 

“ I believe we can all make a positive difference, particularly when we do it together – so thank you to everyone working to advance the sustainability agenda, it has never been more important.”

3) Leading when you don’t have the status or consensus is possible

“Many of us are looking to our company leaders for leadership when, actually, they may be looking for leadership from us as sustainability professionals,” Tesco’s head of environment Kené Umeasiegbu explained.

“You need to find the right balance between getting consensus and acting on what is right. My mentor used to tell me that sometimes, you just need to apologise afterwards rather than asking permission first.”

4) Now is the time for businesses to get vocal on sustainability

Forum For the Future’s founder and director Jonathon Porritt opened Day One with a rousing speech on the need for greater business action on some of the most pressing “emergencies” of our time.

 “The end of life on earth as we know it today is being forecast, so silence really is not an option any longer and ignorance as to these things is certainly no longer an available excuse,” he said.

“Companies have now got to step outside the comfort zone of their own envelopes and start talking about what is going on in the global economy today –that’s where it gets really difficult,”

5) The business community must go beyond incremental action and solve problems at source

“When your bath is overflowing, you do not reach for a mop – you turn off the tap,” Helistrat Management Services’ senior sustainability advisor Richard Gillies said.

“We need to think at a systems level and fundamentally redesign our relationship with waste and resources,” Ball Beverage Packaging Europe’s sustainability director Ramon Arratia added. “The redesign of products, infrastructure and policy systems need to go hand-in-hand.”

6) The global and long-term needs to be re-framed as the local and urgent

Earth on Board’s Phillipe Joubert argued that board members who argue they are “too busy with the urgent” to set bold sustainability targets are “missing the most urgent issue of our time – climate change”.

“There is no business in a world of environmental shambles,” he said. “Boards can no longer claim to ignore climate change and its risks. “

7) Sustainability leaders must find opportunity in every challenge

“Adversity will always force us to innovate and drive a permanent sustainable change,” E.ON’s managing director of business and community solutions Michael French argued.

8) The time has come to step out of our comfort zones

 “If you want to go into corporate leadership in this space, it’s going to feel very uncomfortable,” Kellogg Europe’s Rupert Maitland-Titterton said.

“You have to have the power, courage and ability to change the direction of the company completely.”

9)  ‘Purpose-led’ is more than just a buzzword

“In today’s world, everyone is talking about purpose – but when it’s done properly, it is absolutely the right thing to do from all perspectives,” Engie’s corporate responsibility and environment director Jamie Quinn said.

“It helps to avoid a situation where sustainability is separate to what you do as an organisation. Making it core to business strategy is absolutely fundamental if we want to be believed.

10) Businesses won’t be trusted without honesty and transparency

“People don’t necessarily respond to organisations saying they’ve already got everything right,” the Woodland Trust’s chief executive Beccy Speight said.

“They do respond to the idea that you are on a journey, and that it is complicated. Storytelling is the sign of a very deep relationship between an organisation and its environmental ambitions.”


edie staff

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