Skip to content

Finding your opportunity point

Key ideas for today’s sustainability leaders


Following the publication of our blog on Edie, CAF and Forster Communications brought together sustainability leaders from a range of industries to discuss sustainability leadership and identify opportunities to inspire action and greater collaboration within and beyond their organisations.

We were delighted to have David Croft, Global Director of Sustainability at RB, and Hil Berg, Head of Sustainability and CSR at Iceland Foods, to spark the conversation with their insights and experiences, and several themes emerged.  Ranging from skills to systems that enable change; to pioneers and partnership. What follows is some of the key highlights and insights from the discussion:

Focus on impact

The conversation around impact has evolved from reporting outputs to understanding the unique changes that businesses can make. This shift in thinking enables companies to stop thinking about impact as a tick-box exercise and start using it as a way to create business opportunity. The starting point is to identify the core organisational principle that you can leverage to create impact, and who else you need to partner with inside the business to do so. Then consider what you need to do to become a pioneer in that impact area – not just within your team, but across your company. With a sense of the impact you want to aspire to and how it aligns to core business, the next challenge is to think about the most effective way to capture that impact.

Corporate activism

Increasing numbers of businesses are choosing to tackle complex social or political issues. Understandably so, given rising employee and public pressure on businesses for change.  Often introducing more sustainable practices requires complex formulas and integrated working across all business areas. It’s critical to give employees the ability to get involved and recognise that frontline staff can be a huge asset in delivering on these ambitions.  The appropriate use of language is crucial – technical jargon can create dissonance and exclude people from what needs to be a business wide conversation. Thoughtful language adapted to other people’s agendas and need states can help create genuine connections and breakthrough discussions that drive lasting commitment in an organisation.

Talk to individuals

The language you use is the golden ticket and different stakeholder groups will be motivated in different ways. By understanding what your customers want you can enable them to be part of the solution. By demonstrating to the Board why you have set a specific target metric (e.g. to meet the 1.5% global warming cap) it frames your purpose at the very highest level. Don’t think so much about the technical detail, but rather focus on how you will create that impact and engage the problem solvers in your business to enact it.

Together is better

Change is hard and success is unlikely to come from acting alone. Sustainability leaders need to be ready to push on a range of doors – from the expected to the surprising – and see what creativity and social innovation emerges. By working in partnership with specialists from other sectors you can amplify your impact.

Transparency is key

From science-based targets to open reporting, transparency is critical to driving progress.  There is an increasing level of ‘SDG-wash’ where current activities are being matched into SDGs rather than starting with the Goals and considering where an organisation can best add value. Businesses need to ask what they want to change and then be able to show what they have delivered. It is not expected to easy but values are not values if they do not cost anything. The UN estimates that delivering the SDGs will cost between $3.3 and $4.5 trillion per year, which will require new innovation and collaboration. Businesses need to be honest about the starting point and seek to become solution providers working with other relevant actors.

Stewardship

The risk of recruiting sustainability ‘champions’ is that everyone else wipes their hands of the responsibility. The potential in recruiting them is they become powerful ambassadors who are authentic and engaging. There will always be a tension between the two, but ultimately you need to create interdependency throughout the business so everyone is helping to achieve the goals.

Bravery

As a sustainability leader you have the personal power to create change, but it takes courage. You will often meet criticism and have to speak uncomfortable truths. Challenge the brand messaging if it is entirely at odds with what you are trying to do across the business. Nothing is simple – so keep reminding yourself that what you’re doing is ultimately for both people and planet.  You are the change-maker.

If you are interesting exploring in more detail any of the themes from the session, then we would love to hear from you.

Amanda Powell-Smith, Forster Communications,

Klara Kozlov, CAF,