UPFRONT Built to last?

You only have to look at the way Toyota’s fuel-efficient hybrid cars are now speeding out of car yards to get sense of the prizes that are there for the vanguard of companies embracing sustainable business thinking.
That an increasing number of companies are reaping the benefits of being proactive in this area is good news for Sally Uren. As director of business programmes with Forum for the Future, the United Kingdom’s leading sustainable development charity, her job is to put companies on the track of exploring what sustainable future looks like for them. In New Zealand last month to speak at the New Zealand Sustainable Business Conference, she notes that there is now whole clutch of positive case studies to emulate.
“Toyota’s Prius is great example – sales have gone through the roof and other companies are falling over themselves to get hybrids to the market. Another example is BP’s moving into renewables – with carbon trading going through the roof everyone is asking, ‘What’s the alternative? Where can we get non-carbon based energy from?’ and BP can say ‘us, of course’.”
It’s what is dubbed ‘the sweet spot’ – companies that do well in the market by doing better toward the environment they work in – and it’s making the sustainability message an easier one to sell, says Uren. She’s now working with more than 50 businesses – most of which are big brand names such as Cadbury Schweppes, GlaxoSmithKline, Vodafone, Unilever and BP.
The forum aims for the bigger companies because that generates ripple-down effect to smaller companies it doesn’t have the resources to help.
“The advice we give our partners is, if you’re going to drive sustainability through your supply chain, you need to take your suppliers with you and you need to help them by giving them the tools and resources to get there.”
Her own organisation has clear corporate engagement guidelines that include access to boardroom level dialogue at least once year to ensure top-level buy in. It operates primarily at strategic level helping companies envision what sustainability looks like for them through all business functions.
“We’re doing lot of work on defining this model for sustainable business – what that means for each of the various corporate functions. So what is sustainable leadership in terms of stakeholder engagement, or employee motivation, or the environment,” explains Uren.
While some companies have trouble swallowing the “sustainability” message, it’s really all about future-proofing the business.
“The dialogue we have with business is about where they want to be in five or 10 years’ time. How is the business going to respond to the changing environment – climate change, security of supply, pressure from emerging markets? Are they capable of delivering long-term value creation to shareholders? Will that involve changing suite of products or services that are not sustainable into the future?
“That conversation is quite critical because there are still number of businesses that don’t see that sustainable development has anything to do with them – and longer term, they will be the losers,” says Uren.
“Investors want to know whether you’re good bet going forward. So how do you know you are? How are you dealing with the risks out there? Basically, it’s all about what you need to do now in order to still be here in the future.”

Visited 13 times, 1 visit(s) today
Close Search Window