As Communication and Sustainability Manager at agricultural group Rovensa, Raquel Henriques believes sustainability is not just about hitting targets; it’s also about aiming for long term goals.
Here she talks to dss+ about how transparent communication, safety excellence and actions play a pivotal role.
Q: You have a strong background in communication. How has this progressed, and how does it impact your current role?
Raquel: I have a bachelor’s degree in social communication and began my career in journalism and public relations. I then became involved in corporate communications in several multinationals. During this time, it was evident that sustainability was becoming an increasingly important part of the communication strategy. To me, having both competencies within the same department makes sense as there are some technical elements and issues that need to be communicated well, or it can lead to greenwashing, misinformation and wrong perceptions. My current role takes this thinking onboard to build and develop the sustainability maturity of the company from an environmental, societal and governance (ESG) perspective. It also plays a key role in how those developments are communicated to different stakeholders. It’s a challenge I’m passionate about because it helps drive organisational engagement to make a positive impact on people’s lives and the planet.
Q: What part do corporate values play in transitioning to a sustainability strategy, and how do you communicate those transformations?
Raquel: We have a robust set of corporate values that feed directly into our sustainability strategy. We refer to these core values as SEEDS, which stands for safety, ethics, empowerment, dedication and striving. All these values are present in the way we conduct our business across the world. As a responsible business, we are striving every single day to improve our positive impact on a global scale. We dedicated our efforts to feed the planet without compromising the planet’s resources in the process. As the sustainability strategy progresses, communication plays an essential role in transmitting sustainability performance. Whether it’s how the ESG governance model is making an impact or the development of key performance indicators (KPIs), communication needs to be transparent so that sustainability performance can be evidence-based and can stand up to stakeholder scrutiny. Sustainability is a journey. So, it’s important to be honest about the progress, and the obstacles encountered along the way. Sometimes, sustainability topics can be complex and sometimes difficult to grasp. That’s why we should put it simply and give real examples to showcase the efforts that drive positive change. Of course, there’s always more to be done to achieve that structural transformation. But it’s important not to get overwhelmed; it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Q: Inevitably companies will be at different sustainability maturity levels. How can we develop better alignment?
Raquel: When we talk about sustainability, there is a tendency to focus on hitting big targets. I am not saying this approach is wrong; it’s important to make disclosures, set targets, pledges, and report on progress, but it is even more important to act. But for many companies who may be a long way from hitting those big targets, it’s reassuring to hear that the road to those successes was neither straight, nor always smooth. So rather than overly focusing on targets reached, let’s also talk about sustainability goals and how a company can consistently work towards them. If we take the example of better water management, using reliable data and digitalisation to track performance and monitor progress consistently can help to demonstrate how every drop saved is essential. Communicate these micro-actions to show how even small steps can make an impact and lead to transformation. It’s a simple way to offer support and encouragement to companies at different sustainability maturity levels. Taking action is inspiring.
Q: What do you see as the key challenges companies currently face in implementing their sustainability strategies?
Raquel: New and evolving sustainability standards and frameworks and how they impact different sectors and companies are a significant challenge, as they have the potential to slow down or even derail transitioning business models. Equally, internal challenges need to be addressed. Sustainability needs to be embedded in the organisational culture and taken into consideration in every business decision. It should start from the top, of course. Aligning the leadership on the material ESG topics is crucial to get their buy-in, but it is not enough. To bring sustainability strategy to life, it should be seen as a shared responsibility by the entire organisation. Leadership commitment can help to build awareness about the importance of ESG actions, such as reducing our carbon footprint to fight global warming. In my humble opinion, a successful sustainability strategy elevates business to better serve societal and planetary challenges and find ways to educate, engage and recognise all employees that make the change happen. Involve the entire organisation to move the sustainability strategy forward.
Q: Your corporate values show a clear link between sustainability and safety. Can you elaborate on how this works in practice?
Raquel: Sustainability and safety are interconnected. Both aim to contribute to a less harmful impact on people and the planet. We aspire for a zero-harm culture for our employees, suppliers, local communities, farmers, and the environment. Within our organisation, we are now nurturing a safety culture to ensure that everyone feels safe, protected, and empowered to grow the safety culture, not only in our factories but also in our offices. The well-being, health, and safety of people, from our employees to farmers is of the utmost importance. We have a direct responsibility to support farmers in improving sustainability and staying safe. We achieve this by taking a ‘boots on the ground’ approach, in which our technical experts work directly with farmers to advise them on product use and gain insights and feedback. In addition, we also collaborate with other industry players to reduce health and safety risks overall. With these stewardship efforts, we aim to contribute to a safe and healthy food supply, too. Overall, sustainability and safety are about improving our understanding to protect ourselves and each other for the benefit of all. Sustainability, and safety also, should be a shared responsibility that we can all contribute to, no matter how small that contribution is.
Q: How can companies develop a sustainability strategy that is reliable and, importantly, achievable?
Raquel: First, you have to raise awareness and collect reliable data to kickstart the process. It’s also important to be mindful of how the data you collect fits into your business strategy. It’s impossible to address all challenges, so focus on those that can make the most significant positive impact. After assessing where the company is, it’s important to reflect about its purpose and link it to a future ambition, and then commit with tangible actions. Data is important because what you cannot measure, you cannot manage. Equally, education about data use and, for instance, carbon literacy, are extremely important if companies are to make a positive impact on the climate crisis. Seeking government funding for decarbonisation and early collaboration and cooperation with regulators, industry associations, business partners, and the supply chain is also increasingly essential, particularly as sustainability standards evolve and we move towards Scope 3 reporting on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the value chain. An evolving regulatory landscape adds additional complexity to strategy development, so tapping into skillsets and expertise internally and externally is one way to help cascade knowledge and keep plans on the front foot. It’s also important to remember that while we’d all love to be more advanced in achieving sustainability goals, successful transformation is mostly about taking small steps consistently, and communicating progress accurately. Finally, resilience is vital; if initiatives fail, keep trying until you reach your goal. The stakes are too high to give up.