Mission Possible: 8 charts that show how business leaders are building a sustainable future

Hundreds of sustainability professionals gathered in London for edie's Sustainability Leaders Forum this week. Throughout the two-day event, delegates were asked to reflect on their thoughts on key drivers, and the results show that a sustainable future is possible.

The Sustainability Leaders Forum (24-25 January) brought together senior representatives from a range of firms including AkzoNobel, Ikea, Dell, ING and many more. Throughout the two-day event, speakers shared insight and inspiration on how they plan to deliver a sustainable future – both on a personal and professional level.

Sandwiched either side of the Sustainability Leaders Awards, the Forum also provided a brief glimpse at edie’s brand new Mission Possible campaign for 2018, which will inspire and empower businesses to achieve a sustainable future, today.

As the results from surveys at the Forum show, delegates arrived excited and left feeling inspired. Workshops gave delegates practical advice on topics ranging from millennial influence, behaviour change and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), while panel sessions outlined examples of boardroom buy-in and circular economy practices.

The Forum provided valuable insight into how sustainability professionals plan to deliver a thriving low-carbon future, and edie has pulled these results together into eight engaging charts. Enjoy.

They are EXCITED about the future of green business…

At the start of the Forum, the event’s chair Simon Cohen asked delegates, “what one word or phrase best describes your mood when it comes to accelerating change around sustainability?”

The word cloud above is a thesaurus of positivity, with 125 delegates denoting passion, enthusiasm and excitement for the task ahead. Mission Possible will aim to build on this excitement by delivering on five key pillars related to the future of sustainable business: Energy, Resources, The Built Environment, Mobility and Business Leadership.

They want to REDEFINE their organisation’s purpose…

Purpose-wash is thing; it’s a prime example of businesses misunderstanding of the level of commitment required to be truly purposeful. Purpose should be ambitious in nature – a company definition that represents a step change for the business that responds to strategic business needs.

Cleary businesses and delegates are still sculpting what their purpose truly is, with 27% of the 135 respondents highlighting “redefining business purpose” as the biggest opportunity to achieve a sustainable future. Interestingly, it was tied as the top answer with “more collaboration”. Perhaps the new business purpose is one of collective action?

They are agents of CHANGE…

When asked what they see to be their primary purpose as a sustainability professional, delegates responded with a range of answers; from providing leadership to implementing action. One common theme across all the answers is that delegates believe it is their role to change how companies operate, consume and behave.

As more companies start to integrate sustainability, therefore no longer viewing it as an add-on, its fair to say the way they operate will indeed change. But this poses questions as to what the future role of a sustainability professional looks like.

They are still getting to grips with the SDGs, but want to take ACTION…

The SDGs are all-encompassing by nature, stretching beyond the boundaries of traditional CSR to cover a broad range of social and economic development issues. The 17 Global Goals are propped up by 169 targets, so it’s understandable that 54% of the 92 responses are yet to “report the action” their company is taking against the goals.

However, that’s not to say that businesses aren’t at least aligning strategies to the SDGs. For example, Corporate Citizen’s research shows that 56% of companies have plans in place to act on the goals in the future. Many of themes covered by Mission Possible relate to the SDGs, creating the ideal platform to leverage action that contributes to the global goals.

They are still concerned by a ‘profit-over-planet’ philosophy…

A total of 90 delegates respondents to the question, “what is the biggest barrier you face when it comes to taking the lead on sustainability?” While disconnect with consumers and political turbulence whipped up by the likes of President Trump and the Brexit uncertainty were highlighted, the concept that profits should reign supreme over the planet is still a major concern.

Fortunately, businesses and nations have shown the economic growth can be decoupled from emissions. With the costs of renewables and other low-carbon technologies tumbling at record rates, business strategies could soon change to “profit with the planet”.

They want to INSPIRE others to achieve Mission Possible…

As sustainability becomes more holistic, engaging staff becomes more important. With global frameworks such as the Paris Agreement, the SDGs and the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) now in place, sustainability professionals also need to engage key stakeholders.

When asked how they plan to drive staff and stakeholder engagement with sustainability, around one-third of the 59 respondents noted that telling inspirational stories would be the most effective method. Aligning business purpose, educational methods and incentivising behaviour change were also listed as viable tools.

They BELIEVE in the circular economy…

If a sustainable future is to be delivered, major disruptions need to take place that change how people and businesses consume, use and dispose of the earth’s resources. The desire to implement a circular economy has been strengthened by the recent wave of plastic pollution pledges, which were largely driven by the Blue Planet TV series.

Almost two-thirds of respondents view the circular economy as the area of development that holds the most potential to deliver business transformation at scale. Internet of Things (IoT), flexible energy systems and Blockchain were some way off in the voting.

They are INSPIRED by Sustainability leadership in action…

At the end of both days of the Forum, delegates were asked how they felt following a series of workshops, speaker interviews and panel discussions. It is evident that all the excitement prior to the event had meshed well with the advice and anecdotes of the speakers.

The word cloud above notes that sustainability professionals feel inspired and positive about the future. With Mission Possible set to launch at edie Live at the NEC Birmingham on 22-23 May, edie’s aim is to turn this inspiration and positivity into tangible progress that delivers a sustainable future. Stay tuned for exclusive Mission Possible reports, video interviews and events throughout the year.

Matt Mace

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