Is it time for ‘Reimagining Sustainability’?

09 November, 2016

Last week I met a good friend for breakfast, after that he was to spend the rest of the day in a leadership workshop with a global industrial enterprise, on business strategy, innovation and digital transformation. I asked him if he ever met executives that wanted to talk sustainability, sadly he responded that he rarely did. This reminded me of another conversation with a friend who was recently at WEF in Davos, representing a company respected for their ability to partner with innovative companies around key business initiatives. He had also shared that the CEOs he met at Davos didn't particularly want to talk about sustainability.

This got me thinking, people are fatigued with the endless talk of sustainability and the seemingly limited framework or are approaching it the wrong way. For most enterprises sustainability has meant energy efficiency programs and writing sustainability reports, reports that very few people read and care about. This process is effort intensive, manual, inefficient and frustrating for most people involved and leads to reporting fatigue. This is a poor way to engage with employees that are passionate about sustainability and does a disservice to their skills, time and intellect. Keep in mind that most of these employees are millennials, and understand more than anyone else what is happening around sustainability and care deeply that the company they work for is truly making an impact.

At the same time the sustainability landscape is changing rapidly, Post COP21 the world of sustainability is busy figuring out its implications. Some of the most well known business leaders including Paul Polman, Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg are pushing global businesses to do more, they are talking about opportunities from sustainability, low costs solutions and the need to 'price carbon'. We Mean Business is driving a coalition of organizations to engage with some of the largest global businesses and investors to create a platform for businesses to discuss and plan the transition to a low carbon economy. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is driving businesses to move from a linear economy to a circular economy, a transition that will create an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design.

Why then isn't sustainability a Boardroom conversation, is the time right for 'Reimagining Sustainability'. How do enterprises focus on real stuff, how can they get ahead of the curve and focus on what is really important and respond to changing market dynamics.

From my perspective one of the most important things an enterprise can do in terms of 'Reimagining Sustainability' is for leadership to step back and first consider what is most important to them. Every enterprise is unique, is it the Circular Economy, is it Societal Valuation, is it employee engagement or something else. Perhaps it's all three, in which case how can existing investments in enterprise resources - people, cloud applications, buildings, infrastructure, supply chain be aligned to what is most important. Where are the gaps, where do additional investments need to be made and what technology solutions need to be picked. How will this help you connect the dots and extract the essential data from across the enterprise and relevant external sources, build the big data and analytics to help make decisions, budget, plan, and launch transformational initiatives, who will lead these initiatives and identify the KPIs, that will help you tell all your stakeholders the impact you are having in the areas that are most important to you and them.

This will be competitive advantage going forward.