The climate crisis is accelerating, and its implications across wildlife and natural ecosystems has become a major threat on resources which we require to exist. As individuals, many of us can make a difference by changing our habits. However, large scale change is required. The reality is, large organisations contribute a disproportionate amount of emissions throughout their entire value chain. So what has to be done? While small-scale sustainable actions by individuals are crucial, more impactful change can be achieved if large corporations adopt sustainable practices to change the current state of affairs. By revamping current ways of working, implementing sustainable practices throughout the business and reducing their impact on the planet throughout the entire value chain, large corporations can create real change. This is precisely why sustainability should be at the very top of each company’s 2021 to-do-list.
Understandably companies are concerned about their bottom line. Selling more, growing and being profitable is at the forefront of their minds. After all, business is business. But consumer behaviours are shifting. Many consumers are making conscious purchase choices, opting for ‘greener’ or more sustainable alternatives. For a growing number of consumers, who are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of their products, sustainability is a key consideration when perusing the aisles. Businesses need to adapt to accommodate this shift in consumer behaviour.
These conscious consumers, who are becoming more aware of the lifecycle of the products that they consume and their own impact on the planet, are also applying wider pressure on corporations. The public are turning to corporations to exert their influence across large supply chains and countless global markets, making holistic innovation and business transformation also a requirement.
This means that for many large organisations, increasing awareness of the climate crisis and the need for greener practices has transcended corporate social responsibility. As climate change exerts its influence across all markets, moving towards sustainability demands a revolution across pre-existing business models. A quick glance across markets highlights businesses re-evaluating their offerings and innovating to meet the demand for more sustainable options, from “green’ and ethical investment portfolios, to companies publishing their carbon footprint across their supply chains and taking proactive steps scoring negative C02 emissions. Increasingly, we see that sustainability is driving innovation by introducing new business constraints that shape how key resources are used in products and processes.
Adapting and meeting the demands of conscious consumers is not the only reason organisations should integrate sustainability into their to-do list. Corporations not only face public pressure but also legislative ones. The United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals mission statement: “a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030” has prompted corporates to consider how they need to evolve to interpret and embed these goals into their business practices. There is pressure to change and despite large undertakings and challenges, the biggest players still need to do their part.
A manifestation of these goals can be seen in carbon footprint labels, much like the nutrition labels that consumers are familiar with, that have been adopted by many organisations across some of their product range. The carbon footprint label showcases the impact certain products have on the environment, in particular on CO2 emissions. Meeting pressure from consumers and investors, companies such as Oatly, Quorn and Unilever are frontrunners on embracing and leading the sustainability challenge. But more can be done. These frontrunners are further calling for a joined up approach from governments and influential NFPs, to ensure that the metric is comparable and transparent.
And this pressure is rearing results. Large organisations are determined to change their legacy – from major polluters to changemakers and climate savers. Nestlé, the world’s biggest player in the food industry, will be investing $3.6 billion over the next five years in an aim to rid all emissions from the business. This is a great undertaking as dairy and meat products form a large part of their product ranges, and carbon emissions are notoriously challenging to reduce across the farming sector.
The ripples of change have resulted in more organisations reacting. For example, Unilever has announced a one billion pound investment, over the next decade, to spend on climate change initiatives such as reforestation. Similar commitments have been made by BrewDog, who have announced its aims to go beyond carbon neutral and become the pioneer by becoming the first carbon negative international beer brand. They pledge to remove twice as much carbon from the air than the company emits each year, reflecting their beliefs that organisations should be having a positive impact on the planet, demonstrated by a climate strategy with a thirty million pound investment. The business investments and pledges we have begun to see serve a number of priorities: adapting to legislation but also to reinvent brand perception for businesses that have typically been affiliated with being a burden on natural resources. This perception is an important factor in protecting brand identity and appeasing an increasingly conscious consumer.
Successfully implementing sustainable initiatives let alone overhauling existing business models and practices that are unsustainable is a big ask. A huge barrier to sustainability is often the resource, expertise and time required within senior teams to elicit the necessary transformation. Corporations have attempted to tackle this through the creation of Chief Sustainability Officer roles.
Historically the role of the CSO was less focused on sustainability in the environmental sense. Rather, the role focussed on areas that increased efficiency and reduced cost across the business, with the aim to serve existing business models that favoured short term profits.
However, the expectation of this role has shifted. Corporates have now turned a wary eye towards increasing legislation around CO2 emissions, as the UK plans to cut emissions by 80% by 2050, which will require systemic change. Due to legislation and compliance changes, the sustainability agenda has become a driving force in pressuring organisations to change the way in which they operate. The most meaningful changes within organisations have been achieved when sustainability has transformed corporate identity, a result of sustainability and innovation departments aligning and collaborating, creating a culture of innovation and growth.
The business landscape has faced major disruption due to the pandemic, which has demanded overnight closures and a completely reimagined way of operating. The immediacy of these disruptions has meant that the sustainability agenda has been pushed further down organisational priorities. Farid Baddache, CEO & Cofounder of KSAPA stated “a triple digital, social and environmental revolution is underway. Businesses have little choice and need to quickly adapt and keep up with markets and customers” therefore organisations will need to have clear business cases and be prepared to not only manage the risks but to seize the opportunities that will present itself with the impending ‘triple revolution’. Having this clear business case “should be priority number one of any business leader regardless of job or industry” according to Baddache. The sheer size of the “triple revolution” requires investment and resources, and within sustainability, this means there cannot be a singular trend or approach.
As we’ve shown, many companies are focusing on reducing their carbon footprint/emissions – but it is only one of many crucial ways organisations can reduce their impact on the planet. Naturally, an organisation’s focus on a single area of sustainability easiest to roll out across their business and most relevant to them is a good first step. But a truly sustainable innovation strategy needs a holistic view of all opportunities to reduce impact on the planet. These opportunities range from insetting, dematerialisation, waste management, energy efficiency, recycling and more. A cohesive approach to tackle all these opportunities is required for greener, more sustainable practices and governance across industries globally. With the wellbeing and health of the planet, wildlife and humans at stake, a greener world can only be achieved if large organisations play their part and place sustainability at the top of their innovation agenda in 2021 and beyond.
In understanding that large organisations all have one thing in common – the need to be more sustainable, we have created The Bakery Sustainability Lab.This initiative will foster collaborative innovation between multiple like-minded corporations; identifying important sustainability challenges, before finding, testing and implementing innovative solutions from the global startup ecosystem that will drive a more sustainable outcome. We believe that by fostering collaboration and pooling resources, we will be able to solve much greater challenges at a lower individual cost than is possible when working independently. The core aim is to support large corporations to drive real change on the most important challenge of all – reducing our impact on the planet! To find out more and how to get involved head over here.