It might seem as if the world has thought of little else but the pandemic over the past year, but that is not the case.
Sustainability is still very much top of the agenda for businesses – in fact, the coronavirus crisis has simply thrown its importance into sharper relief. Recent research by Deloitte revealed that chief experience officers (CXO) ranked climate change as the top societal issue for businesses to tackle over the next decade. This concern has accelerated since the emergence of Covid-19, a crisis that Marie Georges, sustainability partner at Deloitte, a corporate partner of ESCP’s Circular Economy Chair, describes as “a wake-up call”.
Companies must integrate sustainability into the heart of their operations
The shift has prompted companies and their customers to reassess their notions of what sustainability really means.
As consumers become more aware of ‘greenwashing’ – the marketing practice whereby organisations spin their business practices as being greener than in reality they are – companies are looking at how they can integrate sustainability into the heart of their operations.
While it is vital that we, as individuals and collectively, strive to minimise our impact on the environment, the onus is on global businesses to make changes that permeate their entire operation. “Companies have a big responsibility to remain transparent and honest in how they do business,” says Jade Plancke, ESCP Business School student and co-founder of the Responsible Business podcast.
Her co-founder Rebecca Ruff agrees.
It’s not just about planting trees. It’s looking out for companies that actually promote reduction before offsetting. It’s about having accurate information about climate change, which is a clear problem in leadership positions.
What does a business look like when sustainability is systematic?
Among the businesses leading the way are ethical clothing company Patagonia, and global players such as Unilever and Danone, who have made openly rigorous commitments to sustainable strategies.
However, it is easier to create a new company with comprehensive green credentials than to transform an established business.
Sustainability has to be introduced systematically, in much the same way as digitisation has infiltrated every aspect of company operations. Clothing brand H&M, which has in the past been criticised for creating fast, disposable fashion, is addressing this by appointing their former head of sustainability as CEO.
“Sustainability has to be the new mindset,” says Marie Georges. “We want it to be in the mind of every CFO, head of HR and director of operations; it has to be everywhere. Only when everybody in a company understands this can you make a difference.”
This content was produced in partnership with the commercial department of the Financial Times.