Thinking forward: 20 business leaders define the next 20 years of sustainability – Part one

EXCLUSIVE: In the first of a two-part feature, edie hears from 20 sustainable business leaders, CSR experts and climate activists who together provide a revealing insight into how the next two decades of corporate sustainability will be shaped and defined.

Future thinkers: 20 sustainability and CSR experts have shared their views on what the future holds for green business

Future thinkers: 20 sustainability and CSR experts have shared their views on what the future holds for green business

In recognition of edie’s 20th anniversary as a sustainable business media brand, the past month has seen the editorial team collate and deliver numerous blogs, features, infographics and quizzes reflecting on the past 20 years of sustainability progress.

Now, we want to think forward. With this in mind, we've gathered the insights of 20 sustainability experts to give their views on the next 20 years of corporate sustainability, across of range of key areas. From resource efficiency to green finance; board diversity to consumer demands, the 20 viewpoints offer a unique glimpse at what the sustainable business of the future looks like and – crucially – how that future can be worked towards today.

1) Simon Boas-Hoffmeyer, director of sustainability, Carlsberg

Carlsberg is one of the three companies to have set a science-based target aligned with the more ambitious 1.5C target of the Paris Agreement. For Boas-Hoffmeyer, companies will begin viewing other environmental impacts with the same focus currently placed on carbon.

“In terms of emerging challenges that will become more and more apparent to businesses in the coming years, the whole area of planetary boundaries stands out in my mind. Some of the challenges include, for example, arable land for food production - I think topsoil quality and nutrients in our soils will be one of the key topics together with water from both a quantity and quality perspective and the use of rare earth minerals in our consumer electronics.

“The challenge will be to develop measurements and targets for the other areas than carbon like what has been done with the Science Based Targets initiative. This brings me to another major challenge I see, namely the ability to disseminate new technology and to bring it to market at speed. When you look at solar, wind and other types of renewable solutions, if they were invented in 2025 I think you would see it reaching scale much faster than what has been the case in the past.”

2) Francisco Carranza Sierra, managing director, Renault-Nissan Energy Services

Nissan has moved from offering transport as a product to electrification as a service. At the unveiling of the Amsterdam Arena’s new energy storage facility, Carranza explained how servitisation will create new offerings for consumers.

“We need to respond to what our customers are asking us to do, not just for electric vehicles and products, but for new services too. Some companies have a purpose that goes beyond just manufacturing a product.

“There is a load of signals, but customers are looking at people to deliver aspirations. We’re going to do our best to bring costs down, push excitement up among consumers and make sure we get a piece of the pie.”

3) Gabrielle Ginér, head of sustainable business policy, BT

One of the other firms to have a 1.5C science-based target in place, BT, is attempting to help its customers reduce their carbon emissions. For Ginér, the next frontier of corporate responsibility will see companies embed sustainability amongst suppliers and consumers.

“I think we will increasingly see companies driving further engagement with supply chains and customers to inspire them to take climate action. Building on that, companies will become more collaborative with other organisations, NGOs and policymakers. Businesses have a key role in providing confidence to policymakers to be ambitious. 

“Sustainability professionals will need to have the skills to evaluate risk and reward in light of climate change, as well as understand and embrace low-carbon technologies becoming available. In the midst of all this change, they need to be great internal communicators to help steer their businesses. They also need to be courageous in championing new thinking and ideas and be advocates for showing what’s possible and leading by example."

4) John Elkington, executive chairman and co-founder, Volans Ventures

As part of edie’s 20th-anniversary series, renowned author, CSR advisor, serial entrepreneur and chairman of market catalyst Volans, John Elkington, summarised the evolution of corporate sustainability, and called on businesses to “dream big”.

“We must learn to dream—and act—exponentially. It’s time to dream bigger, better, bolder. To deliver solutions that are exponentially better, more affordable, more future-fit. Our ability to imagine a better world is key to regenerating our cities, societies, economies and—ultimately—the biosphere. The good news, to paraphrase William Gibson, is that better futures are already here. They’re just not evenly distributed yet.

“One solution, as with learning journeys, is to connect with—visit—those at the leading edges of change. Like matches struck the right way, learning minds can ignite others around them. Our own ignition efforts have taken us from the worlds of social entrepreneurs and impact investors to those of city mayors and the exponential innovators of Silicon Valley. In the process, we have discovered that unlocking our imaginations involves getting out into the future more.”

5) Arlene Isaacs-Lowe, global head of CSR, Moody’s

Moody’s has been at the forefront of the low-carbon transition in the financial sector for some time. With more investors placing an emphasis on green finance and climate mitigation, Isaacs-Lowe believes that short-term mindsets will make way for long-term ambitions.

“What has been interesting to me is how much the pace of the focus on sustainability has accelerated among the general public over the past 24 months. Millennials are becoming a more influential force in their relation to all corporations, and companies can no longer deny some of the adverse impacts of some of the changes they are observing.

“Companies will always be bottom-line driven, but the question now in my sector is whether their views will shift from a short-term return perspective to a long-term sustainability perspective in the coming years. Right now, there is a lot of discussion around this topic - but the reality is that because of the way we invest, there needs to be a deliberate focus on what the long-term future of a company is going to reveal.”

6) Oliver Rosevear, energy & environment manager, Costa Coffee

Costa Coffee recently made a bold commitment to recycle the equivalent of its entire annual sales of takeaway cups – at a financial cost to the business. For Rosevear, the focus on packaging is unlikely to subside as the waste industry transforms into a “resource industry”.

“One of the major developments we’ll see over the next few years - let alone 20 - surrounding packaging, which is hot on the agenda due to the plastics and coffee cup issues, will be a need for the waste sector’s infrastructure and systems to adapt as the on-the-go sector grows.

“As a result of the mounting pressure in this area, we are seeing real innovation and I do hope we will start to see greater levels of a circular economy adopted in the waste industry, which has to be reframed as a resource industry.”

7) Emma Pinchbeck, executive director, RenewableUK

The evolution of sustainability will hinge on the lobbying efforts of green groups. If new ideas are to emerge in the boardrooms of businesses, Pinchbeck believes the personnel will need to become more diversified.

“Companies which embrace diversity are more profitable. There is a massive range of measures which companies can take to promote diversity, including mentoring programmes, the use of targets for management, training and development programmes, innovation in recruitment practices, and the use of flexible working practices or shared parental leave. The school leavers and graduates of today will come to make up the most diverse (and educated) global workforce in history.

“Business leaders interested in attracting the best talent into their companies will need to operate differently in future in order to keep their staff. With the rise of automation and machine learning, it seems like a good bet for business to invest in leaders and management styles which value uniquely human qualities in their workplaces, which have perhaps been undervalued in the past: qualities like creativity, empathy, and a belief in shared business values."

8) Jon Khoo, innovation partner, Interface

Interface has implemented a highly ambitious, purpose-driven corporate strategy to “reverse climate change”. Khoo believes that the next 20 years will start to reverse some of the adverse impacts. Renewables, resources and a resolute workforce are seen as the key to this ambition.

“By 2038, I expect we will still be seeing higher temperatures due to climate change, significant sea level rises and continued concerns about shortages of resources. That said, I do believe we’ll be seeing evidence of the reversal of global warming and improved air quality. I predict that renewable energy will have become the norm and that we will have seen a significant reduction in GHG emissions - due to a rethink on transport, industrial processes and a move toward plant or insect-based food sources.

“I also believe that we will have adopted more circular approaches to material use. Sustainability will have emerged as a key concern within any role – both in terms of mitigating the impact and how an individual, company or country will need to take responsibility to regenerate our planet. The sustainability professional will remain to activate, to challenge, and to be a catalyst to drive change.”

9) Nick Brown, head of sustainability, Coca-Cola European Partners

In an exclusive interview with edie, Brown highlighted how the ongoing debate on plastics had created a “great opportunity” for business to reshape existing resource policies. These conversations with Government will likely influence national infrastructure for the next 20 years, Brown says.

“Industry has a great opportunity over the next 12 months to really influence and shape the most effective collection and recycling policy frameworks and what they’ll look like for the next 20 years or so.

 “All parts of the supply chain have been allowed to come together in a way that we haven’t seen in the last decade and we have to applaud the work of WRAP and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. I’m excited about the next couple of years in terms of policy reform and the public’s interest over the last year has given a lot of people the motivation and the impetus to collaborate in a way that we probably haven’t seen before.”

10) Caroline Laurie, head of sustainability, Kingfisher

The DIY retailer's new sustainable growth plan targets 50% of the group’s sales by 2020 from products that “actively make customers’ homes more sustainable”. According to Laurie, business will soon be undergoing a shift that captures consumers as part of the sustainability conversation.

“Sustainability strategies have typically focused on the ‘big wide world’ and told people what they should care about rather than understanding what they do care about. But lasting change will come when we can guide the behaviours of our customers in their homes and their day-to-day lives. A big future trend for sustainability will be this shift to a customer-first approach. This is about starting with the customer, understanding their needs and developing strategies that answer these needs.

“We must talk in a way that makes it accessible to the majority. The most important thing I do as a sustainability adviser is to translate sustainability into something personally meaningful, whether I’m talking to a customer, a product buyer, or a chief executive. If we start to speak their language rather than ours, greater change will happen.”

PART TWO OF THIS FEATURE CAN BE VIEWED HERE

Matt Mace


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