The role of sustainability has changed dramatically in a corporate context. How are business leaders approaching the development and implementation of long-term sustainability strategies?
It is no longer enough for companies to simply prioritise sustainability; it must be considered as a long-term objective. Doing so will see sustainability make a considerable difference to operational resilience, corporate reputation and the bottom line.
Over just the past few years, sustainable business has progressed from something that is unusual, to something expected, to now an integral part of business operations.
Companies around the world are considering the impact they have on on their environment and communities. With COP26 beginning on 1 November, global sustainability leaders met to discuss the value sustainability strategies can bring to corporate resilience.
Business are now poised to unite sustainability with business objectives at the senior-most levels. For Pernod Ricard, this makes utter sense. “Our vision and our mission is to create moments of conviviality,” says chief sustainability officer Vanessa Wright. “We call our strategy ‘Good Times from a Good Place’ because we want to bring these moments of conviviality from a good place. All our products come from nature and agriculture. It’s the physical good place, the terroir, the land; but it’s also in terms of how we behave as an organisation. Nature is the starting point of our strategy.”
That alignment between business objectives and sustainable strategy resonates with other companies, as well. The world’s largest wind power company, Vestas, has a vested interest in a sustainable future, but it has put its own sustainable strategy in place. This includes a drive toward a circular business model, an examination of transportation methods and fighting the climate crisis. “You need to integrate sustainability holistically,” says Lisa Ekstrand, senior director – head of sustainability at Vestas. “Our vision is to provide even more sustainable products for our customers, by making sure that the carbon footprint of wind turbines is even lower than today.”
Similarly, at Deutsche Bahn, the continued ability of crucial infrastructure, like the railways, to operate relies on a healthy environment. Andreas Gehlhaar, head of sustainability & environment at Deutsche Bahn points to the recent flooding in Germany as an indication that companies should be doing more to combat climate change. He says: “From an economic point of view, we can only run our business if there is a solid infrastructure. If the infrastructure is destroyed by a flood, then no goods, no people can be transported. That shows how crucially we rely on a stable environment. Sustainability, is, for us, actually at the heart and core of our company and our strategy.”
All of these commitments are forging a stronger standard of practice in global sustainability leadership. But, says Davide Vassallo, chief executive officer at DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS), a longer-term view is needed to further propel sustainability up the list of boardroom priorities: “We need to look at the value of sustainability on a much longer time scale and not only for the results of the next quarter of business. It’s about expanding the timeline, being more innovative in implementing the solution and having an absolute confidence that we are creating long-term value, not only for society, but for the company itself.”
Corporate sustainability strategies can make a difference – not only to the environment and to communities – but to a company’s ability to operate in the long term. Those organisations that can make sustainability a positive contributor to their success will be those that lead the way in sustainable business.