The Nelson-Marlborough branch of the IoD put on a lunch seminar last week featuring Sustainable Business Network founder and CEO Rachel Brown.
Like Rachel, I believe business has a responsibility and a key role to play in addressing the world’s environmental and sustainability issues. I also believe business success and environmental sustainability are not totally inconsistent goals.
From a single ‘summary’ slide it’s clear to see why sustainability issues should be high on every Board’s agenda.
- A firm’s environmental impact and its reputation regarding sustainability represents a major threat or a major opportunity going to the core of the company’s brand. As consumers increase the importance of sustainability in their purchasing decisions this needs to be addressed, yesterday.
- Staff have their own beliefs and want to be aligned with, and proud of the organisation they work for. Attracting and retaining people will increasingly require companies to make a real commitment to sustainability.
- Transparency and authenticity are key. Worse than being seen as a poor-performer, is being found out as a cheat – misrepresenting your environmental performance or green credentials. This is a big ‘watch out’, especially for companies using their sustainability efforts or achievements as a positive marketing platform. Honesty is the best policy, especially if putting yourself on a pedestal. How much are Board’s looking into the justification for any green-marketing claims?
- Costs, including compliance costs, are increasing. Changing processes and the way businesses produce, buy, sell and operate to improve environmental impacts comes at a cost. How are your business strategies lining up to ensure environmental and social sustainability efforts are also economically sustainable? A commodity-driven race to lowest cost is a broken model. Businesses need innovative solutions. They need to be telling their environmental story (truthfully) well, to markets and consumers (increasingly consumers) convincing them, based on transparent and verifiable information that their offering has added value for people and the planet.
- The solutions are not easy. The issues are big and complex. We will need innovation, new approaches, new business models and collaboration across different sectors, businesses and disciplines to make it happen. It’s too big for us to tackle alone. On the flip-side this creates opportunities for higher-value and more sustainable businesses.
Sustainability issues are at the heart of risks and opportunities relating to meeting consumer needs, a company’s brand, attracting and retaining top staff, sustainability of profitability in the face of increasing costs and regulation, and how well a business is positioned to deal with a rapidly changing world.
By the way, the salmon served at the event was some of the tastiest I have ever enjoyed. Supplied by IoD sponsor New Zealand King Salmon, I was impressed not just with the fish, but with the company’s honest description of its sustainability journey. Check out their website where sustainability messages range from water quality and farm management, waste reduction, community initiatives, animal protein production efficiency and global reporting standards.
(Declaration of Interest: I am a Trustee of Graeme Dingle Foundation Marlborough. New Zealand King Salmon is a valued sponsor of Graeme Dingle Foundation’s Kiwi Can programme delivered in primary schools across the region.)