Driving Transformational Change for Society and Industry: Key Insights from Ethical Corporation’s Responsible Business Summit New York

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By Sarah Faith, Vice President

Recently, leading practitioners from sustainability, procurement, innovation and communications, along with investors, government officials and representatives from academic institutions and NGOs, convened in Brooklyn for Ethical Corporation’s 2018 Responsible Business Summit New York.

Now in its sixth year, the 2018 Summit focused on driving transformational change for society and industry. During the two-day event, we heard from business leaders who are emphatic that the business models of old no longer fit their purpose-driven organizations. Small sustainability wins won’t cut it, and organizations - many of which were represented at the Summit - are shifting their mindsets from short-termism to delivering longer-term impact on business, industry and society. Echoed throughout the Summit was the need for progressive leadership, but an acknowledgment that, in order to be a catalyst for change, businesses need to partner with governments, investors, NGOs and even competitors.

For those who weren’t able to join us in Brooklyn, below are four pieces of advice from business leaders to business leaders as they look to drive transformational change in their businesses and for society.

  1. Think globally, act locally: Ronald den Elzen, President and CEO of Heineken USA, stated that it’s difficult to create coalitions at a global level given differences in local laws and regulations. Instead, he advises setting a global agenda that can be adapted to local markets. Then empower local teams to be catalysts for change in their corners of the world.
  2. Embrace pre-competitive spaces: Rob Hargrove, Executive Vice President of Research, Development, Quality and Innovation at Mondelez, advises not to shy away from collaboration with competitors. In solving problems and looking to achieve common sustainability goals, there can be immense value in “radical collaborations” where research, knowledge and/or resources are shared.  
  3. Just dive in: It can be hard for businesses to know where to start when it comes to setting, tracking and communicating against sustainability goals. Andrew Troup, Director of Corporate Strategy for Corporate Solutions at Blackbaud, understands this. Early on, Blackbaud’s team found themselves stuck, going round and round trying to figure out the best way to move their corporate responsibility program forward. Andrew recommends just diving in. You won’t always meet your goals, but set them. Work towards them the best way you can, learn, and revise your course as needed.
  4. Know your limitations: It’s rare that businesses can achieve and effectively communicate around their sustainability goals alone. Jeff Hanman, Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Teck, suggests assessing your strengths but also your shortcomings. And then, do the due diligence to find a partner - whether NGO, government, another business, etc. - that can fill the gap of these shortcomings. Think of partnerships the way Aristotle would have...the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.

To make a lasting impact, brands will need to innovate their approach –  and traditional business models that focus on small sustainability wins will no longer suffice. Companies with strong, long-term corporate social responsibility goals can drive change forward for business and society. Brands setting, reporting and communicating sustainability goals can look to the above takeaways as they shape their future-focused approach.