Leading Sustainable Transformation | 10 May 2023
Peter Fisk is a global business thought leader on leadership and growth, innovation, and customers. He is a bestselling author of 10 books, an expert strategic consultant, and a keynote speaker. He ranks on the Thinkers50 Radar of top business gurus. In May he will be a programme director of our programme Leading Sustainable Transformation.
Do you believe business can catalyse the scale of change needed to rise to the long-term sustainability challenges?
We are all familiar with the world’s biggest social and environmental challenges – climate change to social inequality, the destruction of biodiversity and rainforests, human rights and personal wellness, air pollution and ocean waste.
Business is more powerful than any government or NGO in its ability to reach and influence people, to change attitudes and behaviours. The challenge is to harness the huge audiences of consumers which business can reach, the emotional engagement in brands, the regularity of interaction with products.
We need to do this by changing hearts and minds, not just to want to save the planet, but by reinventing products and services in ways that can do good at the same time.
Organisations with more “purpose”, to make a positive different to the world, typically outperform others by 42% in profitability. Consumers pay more for good. Take organic eggs, fair-trade bananas, handmade clothing. It’s about rethinking how we act as business, how we communicate, innovate and succeed.
Indeed Larry Fink, the CEO of the world’s biggest investment bank BlackRock, told companies “we will only continue to invest in your business, if you can demonstrate a clear purpose – and impact – beyond profit”. Not just because its is good to do, but because he knows it will also deliver better financial returns.
In many cases, organisations with a greater purpose, can be more profitable too.
Sustainability becomes the way to stand out from competitors, to spark new innovation, and to drive new profitable growth.
Where do we start? Describe how you go about infusing this way of thinking into the company. How can businesses get their employees and suppliers on board with their push toward greater sustainability?
We need to start with what business cares most about – customers and shareholders. How can we create something better for customers, more profitable financially, and good for the planet too.
Impossible Foods is a great example. Patrick Brown, a Stanford biology professor was desperate to bigger difference to climate change. He recognised meat, from cattle farming to rainforest destruction, as one of the biggest problems. He set about creating a nonanimal based burger.
He didn’t want to just target activists and vegetarians, but core meat eaters. Environmental arguments wouldn’t be enough. Consumer research showed that to drive change he needed to create a burger that tasted as good – or even better – than traditional burgers. It needed to look and smell good too.
He eventually found the solution in heme, an extract of the clover plant, which he was able to use in his non-meat patty, but to create the juicy taste and smell of sizzling meat. He then scaled the business, from burgers to fish, from restaurants to supermarkets, from US to Asia, to engage more people in eating better.
What is the biggest driver for change for most of the companies you worked with?
Markets have been fundamentally shaken up in recent years by digital technologies, by new audiences like GenZ, by disruptive start-ups, by the Covid pandemic, by social political shifts, and much more. Now we can add global recession, high inflation, disrupted supply chains, and global conflicts to the list.
If you are in retail, you are obsessed with online stores and home delivery. In banking, you are obsessed with Neobanks and Crypto. In healthcare, with remote diagnostics and personalised medicines. In energy, with the shift to wind and solar. In automative, the shift to electric and driverless. And so on.
The biggest driver for change is “Are we fit for the future?” … and within that question is the need to make sense of the volatile nature of every market, to respond to competition from new types of organisations, to explore new geographical opportunities, to embrace new capabilities, and new agendas of customers.
Many of the things companies are already doing are part of a sustainability strategy even if they don’t call it that. How do companies know that they’re moving forward? Are there any milestones?
Sustainability is a key driver of this change – the new agendas of customers, the new capabilities of start-ups, and application of technologies. Look in the food supermarket, the fashion boutique, the car dealer.
In the past, business looked at this as a side-issue. CSR – corporate social responsibility. It was about reducing the negatives – the pollution, the waste. Then came ESG – environmental social governance. It was more about compliance, demonstrating that we were “not bad” with clearer metrics and reporting.
Now it is about making sustainability your core business. It is about seeing it as one of the most significant risks, but also opportunities. How to attract better investment, how to attract the best talent, the best customers, and maybe even a price premium.
Sustainability is now a key driver of business strategy, product innovation, new business models, customer experiences, and competitive advantage.
Will individual companies put themselves at risk if they follow sustainable practices and their competitors don’t?
Yes. Not just from a regulation or compliance perspective. But because they won’t attract the best investment, talent, and customers.
Ideally, what changes would you all like all businesses to implement by 2030?
By 2030 every organisation should be a sustainable business – in terms of its environmental and social impacts – but also its ability to “sustain” itself into the future. Some of the distinctive attributes of a sustainable business would include
• Net Positive – every business not only makes a “net zero” impact on its world, by giving back as much as it takes, but by delivering more than it takes – either environmentally or socially.
• Sustainable Impact – every business will be able to evaluate itself against the UN’s 17 SDGs, and articulate how it is contributing. UN say this, in total, is a $10 trillion opportunity.
• Sustainable Metrics – the environmental “footprint” of every product or service will be quantified and simply communicated to customers, so they can make fast and easy choices about what to buy.
• Sustainable Performance – the social and environmental impact of organisations will be clearly linked to executive pay and rewards, as important as financial performance. Some companies are already demonstrated what all companies should be like by 2030.
• Adidas has put sustainability at the heart of its business and brand strategy “to empower lives through sport”, which is the starting point for every new product or marketing campaign, connecting environmental and social impact.
• Twelve, a cleantech innovator, has developed an advanced system for sucking carbon out of the atmosphere, and turning it into new form of fuel and plastics, currently being trialled by many leading airlines.
• Microsoft sees social impact as the most important driver of tech development, and links its sustainability performance to executive pay, and has declared it will be net positive by 2030, including its historical impacts.
• P&G seeks to be a force for good, through which consumers can enjoy products which also make a positive impact at the same time, and can also connect with each other to amplify the impact together.
• Schneider Eletric is reinventing its business model for distributing clean energy, moving to a decentralised model whereby local “prosumers” can generate their own energy, and make money from their excess capacity.
Who should not miss the opportunity and join the programme Leading Sustainable Transformation?
This is program for every business leader who seeks to create a business fit for the future.
It’s not about some niche, technical or regulatory, approach to sustainability. It’s about a smarter approach to business strategy, to innovation, and competing. It’s about leadership, innovation and transformation.
We have brought together the best insights and ideas from around the world. You’ll learn from companies on every continent, and from global expert faculty. And you’ll apply all the ideas to your own business through a series of tools and blueprints for your future.
Leading Sustainable Transformation is for leaders and managers, and how you can fundamentally build a better business, for a better future.