Over 400 sustainability practitioners came together for the think 2015 Symposium in Stuttgart 10-12th March 2015. Government, non-profit and business leaders across different sectors shared their successes and inspiration, and sent a powerful message: sustainable business is better business, and will require bold new ideas and open collaboration. The breakthrough decade has started, and reconciling business benefits with environmental and social needs will be the "new normal" for the foreseeable future. There is no reason to wait and every reason to act. It's time to succeed sustainably! On this backdrop, it was the perfect day to announce our new brand thinkstep and our innovative platform solution thinkstep.one. Thinkstep is all about embracing the ever evolving knowledge of sustainability, using new levels of understanding, science and analysis (think), and turning it into actions that have real, positive impacts (step). Simply put, the more you know, the smarter your actions. A renewed sense of inspiration and hope was felt among participants at the Symposium. In this article, we capture some of the ‘ah-ha’ moments that occurred: the time is now, business is ready for it, and collaboration is key to accelerate effective change.
THE TIME IS NOW – turn sustainability into positive action
The concept of sustainability is no longer a far-fetched utopia that we will forever aspire towards. Sustainability is what we can and have to create with solutions that are available to us today – step by step.
In order to succeed, it is essential that we have good quality information to enable good decision making. Fortunately, accessibility to good quality data and information – both in terms of the challenges and impacts we have, as well as the positive solutions we can employ – has expanded radically over the past few decades. Businesses have never had a better understanding of the business implications, and have never before been as well equipped with skills, technology, and data to respond to sustainability challenges. And while our business systems and economies are complex and there is still a lot to be learnt, we cannot let complexity stifle innovation and impede progress. There is no doubt that today’s solutions will continue to evolve and improve with time, but time is not on our side. The time to act is now.
As we heard from Laura Storm, CEO of SUSTAINIA, the key to spark positive action is to inspire and empower others within your organisation to imagine the opportunities. “It’s time to move away from scare tactics and ‘apocalyptic imagery’, and develop more solution-focused approaches. Think of the lovely world we can create“, she said. Ensure everyone has a clear vision of where your organization is headed, and collaborate with internal and external stakeholders to determine how to get there.
BUSINESS IS READY FOR IT – the sustainability movement has now reached critical mass
Many of the presenters at the Symposium shared research and case studies demonstrating what many of us in sustainability have been touting for a while: sustainability drives better business. Whether it's motivated through compliance, innovation or social responsibility, sustainability drives lower cost, eliminates waste, mitigates risk, creates brand value, sells more, and attracts talent. However, as Stewart VanHorn, Director of Global Sustainability at Kimberly-Clark, pointed out “we need to start marketing the sustainability benefits of sound business solutions, rather than marketing the business benefits of sound sustainability solutions”. The role of sustainability teams and product stewards should be to help identify opportunities to improve their business through the lens of sustainability.
As more and more business leaders are understanding the opportunities that sustainability can provide within business, sustainability has become much more professionalized and integrated across organisations. The sustainability movement has now reached critical mass. As we increasingly see businesses across the globe embracing sustainability and filling the need for more sustainable products, businesses and cities, organizations that maintain a business as usual trajectory will be left in the dust. As Dieter Hässlein, Senior Vice President Energy & Natural Resources Industries and EHS & Sustainability at SAP SE, stated “the future belongs to those who enable radical transparency in their supply chain and in their operations“.
COLLABORATE – share best practices to accelerate change
The full integration of sustainability into business planning can be achieved by tearing down invisible walls between different business units and functions. Organisations need to use common systems, methodologies and data to achieve the intelligence and nimbleness that is demanded in our rapidly changing business environments.
With increasingly interconnected value chains and business networks, business leaders are accelerating change by taking collaboration to the next level: open sharing of data, methodologies and innovations is no longer nerve-wracking for those who immerse themselves in this new way of thinking. Dr. Dirk Voeste summarized BASF’s commitment to publicly share its innovative Sustainable Solution Steering (SSS) methodology for the sustainability assessment and management of product portfolios by saying, “we compete on products, not on sustainability methodology”.
Sustainability cannot be created in isolation, and the change that we all hope to see will come about only in collaboration – across business units, among peers, along value chains and between large and small companies. It will be a while before everybody catches on to the new paradigm, but the leaders who have forged ahead have started a wave that will wash away the old paradigm.
The Path Forward – creating “thinksteps”
As we manage sustainability for the breakthrough decade, our goal is to collaborate with all of you to demonstrate how long term success can be driven by sustainability. Thinkstep is turning the page to a new chapter in our company’s history. We enable businesses worldwide to recalibrate their strategies and operations for long-term success with unrivalled data, technology, and services. Together with our customers and partners, it is our mission to co-create “thinksteps” that bring about the change and interconnectivity we jointly aspire towards in business – towards the new normal. For more information, please visit our new website at www.thinkstep.com. We look forward to embarking on this journey with you!
By Lauren Bromfield, Friederike Jebens, and Jim Fava, www.thinkstep.com