Companies must look ‘beyond the storm’ and embrace long-term strategies, says IEMA

Companies failing to account for looming long-term megatrends are at risk of becoming "unviable businesses", unless a transformative switch away from short-term thinking can be introduced, the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment's (IEMA) policy and practice lead has claimed.

Speaking exclusively to edie ahead of Tuesday’s edie Live exhibition (scroll down for details), Nick Blyth claimed that one of the “fundamental challenges” that businesses need to account for when approaching sustainable practices, is the reluctance to shift from a short-term financial mind-set to one that accounts for long-term environmental issues and megatrends.

“We’re on a trajectory where people are stuck on short-term thinking; where quarterly and annual reporting to measure accounts doesn’t necessarily translate to actual change,” Blyth said. “We need broader visions and to work collaboratively inside organisations across the supply and value chains to try and change the business model approach.

“Sometimes this is incremental and sometimes it’s transformative and we get new business models emerging. But the risk is getting stuck in a short-term cycle where the business becomes increasingly challenged and unviable because of the wider pressures on it.”

Blyth alluded to megatrends that IEMA has identified in its new ‘Beyond the Perfect Storm’ report, which is set to be released next week during the edie Live exhibition. Blyth revealed that companies need to do more to identify new “headline concepts” that will mitigate concerns over growing populations and increased food demand.

According to Blyth, new business models and vision concepts – such as a circular economy, net positive, future-fit and natural capital – are being introduced and aimed at the “doers” within companies, which are usually sustainability professionals, in order to introduce new ways of thinking that tailor for issues raised by the Sustainable Development Goals.

“There needs to be a different approach on how we measure return on investment,” Blyth said. “We should bring in values beyond finance and look towards the social benefits or aspects of natural capital in order to get away from a simple one-to-two year financial gain approach.

“There’s room to transform the business and use approaches that pay-back over a longer time frame. This is a challenge that a lot of people face.”

In order to mitigate this challenge, IEMA’s soon to be released report will highlight how companies can shift individual views on sustainability issues from those who are “deniers” to becoming “champions” within the company.

It outlines that the sustainability profession is maturing and is being valued for delivering change and real business benefit. The concept of a sustainable business is explored not as an industry that “simply endures” but as one that is reviewing, adapting, innovating and leading change. 

The new report acts as a follow up to IEMA’s Perfect Storm report, which highlighted the “state of unpreparedness” that companies were operating in – especially in regards to the skills shortage gap.

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With IEMA also revealing that the next generation of workers – dubbed Generation S – are seeking to work for companies with sustainability credentials, Blyth believes that the relatively “young” sector of sustainability requires a sense of clarity to shift business models and tailor individual company responses to over-arching issues.

“The critical thing to say is that sustainability is very young in terms of profession,” Blyth added. “It needs clarity around what it is meant to be doing in business. But there is no one template for success.

“Each business has got to find its own way through this. There are some common elements and emerging trends such as collaboration and innovation which can be used to map the risks with stakeholders. But each business will have to approach these concepts differently.”

Nick Blyth at edie Live

Nick Blyth will be speaking on the edie Leaders Theatre at edie Live this week, discussing how to embed the right skills into your organisation, alongside associates from Canon and EY.

If you manage your company’s energy, sustainability, environmental or corporate responsibility, then two days at edie Live will give you a free pass to all the learning, peer-to-peer networking, innovative suppliers and inspiration you need to drive sustainability through your organisation.

View the full edie Live agenda and register to attend for free here.

Matt Mace

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