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Thoughts on the trends and insights from the Responsible Business Trends Report 2017
Once again, Ethical Corporation has dug deep to supply insights sustainability leaders and practitioners can leverage to move the needle further along the dial. I was struck by a number of key trends in this year’s report and want to highlight a few.
There is no doubt that the last year has been one of unprecedented uncertainty given the political landscape and increasing volatility in natural systems – read: the election of Donald Trump, Brexit and California drought and floods for starters. And yet, I am encouraged by the number of organizations doubling down on their commitment to responsible business practices and sustainability strategy. While the report indicates that most organisations still struggle with measuring the demonstrable value of sustainability, they persist.
Another trend of great interest is the value that sustainability teams believe they deliver and where they believe they can contribute the most value. For the last 20 years or so, we found sustainability practitioners resting within the obvious pain points of organisations. For instance, if greenhouse gas emissions represented the greatest challenge, we would find the team settled within operations or engineering. However, if reputation angst was flooding the company, the team might be located in the corporate communications department. While based on the survey findings this philosophy may still persist for some, it appears that leading organisations are driving a lean model that encourages collaboration and working across silos rather than within them. Let’s keep an eye on this trend in particular.
Other fascinating trends in this report include increasing recognition of the importance of sustainability, the robustness of teams and the size and focus of dedicated budgets. None of these items should be overlooked as they are canaries in the coal mine (And yes, I recognise the irony of this metaphor).
I was somewhat troubled with one trend in particular – while so many respondents see the role of the sustainability team to maintain and track KPIs, many reported an inability to measure performance and the value that sustainability is delivering. I recommend two items be addressed right away for those struggling with this challenge. First, identify the key goals of your organisation – not your sustainability goal, but what it is the company is trying to achieve, be it growth, market share, margin, reputation and so on, and second, identify the sustainability actions that can contribute to that strategy. If your KPIs are aligned, demonstrating the contribution your team makes to the success of the organisation will be much more apparent – and provide you a mechanism for course correction, as needed.
We all crave certainty and depend on it to make sound business decisions, but we are living in an era of unpredictable swings in pricing, communication and sentiment – so look to your peers and the SDGs, review the trends and leverage this knowledge to drive innovations in culture and operations.
Nelson Switzer, Chief Sustainability Officer
Nestlé Waters North America
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