During this event, we heard prominent speakers from varying backgrounds passionately talk about one of the most pressing issues of our time – sustainability - and the importance of moving it from the periphery to the heart of business strategy. Not only is this good for the environment but this approach can move businesses forward.

The impact of climate change is becoming more pronounced and stakeholders, both internal and external, expect businesses and policy makers to take responsibility. Adding to the urgency and complexity of the situation are the current geopolitical tensions, growing social and gender inequality and a constantly shifting regulatory landscape. During this event, business leaders and academics discussed the current state of affairs, the impact of our actions on the environment and solutions to place sustainability at the core of business operations. 

Shifting our focus to Thriving

The recent IPCC Sixth Assessment Report once again highlights why what we’ve been doing up until now isn’t working and isn’t enough. Among the numerous observations, the report states with medium confidence, that “In all countries, mitigation efforts embedded within the wider development context can increase the pace, depth and breadth of emissions reductions[1]”.

Keynote speaker Prof. Dr Wayne Visser, Professor of Integrated Value and Holder of the Chair in Sustainable Transformation at Antwerp Management School and Fellow at the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, explained how there’s still lack of clarity regarding what sustainability actually means and, as a result, we’re having difficulty solving the biggest problems humanity and the environment face. With the current system at risk of collapse, a shock is needed that will force businesses, governments and society at large to aim higher, bigger. During the COVID-19 pandemic alone, cybercrime went up 600 % and is expected to cost society trillions of dollars. In 2020, wildfires, storms, floods and earthquakes claimed some 8,200 lives, with global losses of USD 210 billion, of which only USD 82 billion (30 percent) was insured.

Innovation is needed to tackle the issues

Innovation allows us to respond quickly with six great transitions identified to thriving in nature, society and the economy:

Several well-known and internationally active brands and companies have already adopted innovative approaches to transition to thriving. For example, for the past 15 years, a Finnish machine industry company has been creating, defining and driving growth in the waste industry becoming the first company to use artificial intelligence to sort waste.

Prof. Dr Wayne Visser described the six keys to testing if we’re moving in the right direction:

  • Complexity: understanding the many interconnections and patterns of relationship between the parts in living systems;
  • Circularity: designing in harmony with the inherently cyclical processes that recycle energy and materials in living systems;
  • Creativity: fostering novelty and innovation by having diversity, flexibility & permeable boundaries
  • Coherence: having alignment with a higher purpose, which typically has to do with the healthy functioning of the larger system;
  • Convergence: allowing for rapid emergence of new behaviors and organizational states due to changes that reinforce; and
  • Continuity – ensuring the ongoing survival of the system through various forms of self-perpetuation or reproduction.

One of the most important things in our journey to sustainability is hope, and thriving will allow you to be the agent of change we need.

Prof. Dr Wayne Visser

Keeping the debate going to inspire change

Guest speakers Rika Coppens (CEO, House of HR), Pieter Loose (CEO, Ekopak), Veronique Toully (Global Head of Sustainability, UCB) and Laurens Van Reijen (Managing Director, LCL) provided insights into what their organizations are doing to become sustainable businesses. During the panel discussion, Laurens Van Reijen explained how his company is continuously looking for ways to reduce energy consumption – both from the consumer and supplier point of view. Veronique Toully pointed out that one of the biggest challenges today is ensuring equal access to medicine and how designing medicine customized to the patient and the community is a critical step in this direction. Rika Coppens acknowledged that speeding things up starts with a purpose-driven company that has clear values and a raison d'etre. Pieter Loose stressed the impact that climate change has on the availability of drinking water and how his company is both saving water and giving water back to the community. 

The speakers highlighted the importance of self-regulation to move the needle towards sustainable business. And while companies today have a lot of power and, as a result, are in the driver’s seat to initiate real change, raising awareness and educating everyone in the ecosystem to do better can also make a difference. Changing the culture within your organization, integrating purpose into your business strategy and engaging sustainability where it sits closely to the core activities of your organization will really create a more sustainable future.

Sustainability needs to be in your DNA

How do you motivate people to do more, to go further? One way is to bring in new perspectives to drive change. Including very clear measures and KPIs in an organization’s objectives and targets and linking the achievement of these KPIs to the remuneration of executives will also create the motivation needed to drive change. 

Dr. Michael Wagemans, Head of Sustainability at KPMG in Belgium, wrapped up the event with a focus on some positive news: electric vehicles are on the rise, solar is growing, people (both private and public) care about nature and about environmental protection. And while we still have a lot of work ahead of us, we have some tail winds.

Companies that want to make their business more sustainable must take a number of steps and it all starts with having a clear understanding of what it is you want to achieve. This will allow you to have a roadmap which you can take action on. The second step requires you to deploy all your assets and capabilities available within your organization to make those targets a reality. Thirdly, be honest and transparent about your accomplishments and report about them towards your external stakeholders. And finally, make sure that, once you’ve accomplished what it is you set out to accomplish and you’ve reported about it, have this validated by an external party to help build credibility and add reliability. 

Find out more about our step-by-step guide to sustainable business here.

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