I´m not an expert in the field but usually when you come to conferences like this one you wonder what is the purpose of attending the speakers/panellist sessions. They are at the core of the agenda, they are used to weigh the quality of the event but yet they are probably the least important activity for most of the delegates that have huge time constraints and prefer to spend their time networking with colleagues. Well, the Thursday early morning session of the SWF called Beyond the single bottom line: Pioneers in blended value showed us how interesting these conversations can be. An international group of speakers from the UK, Venezuela and the United States, working in very different sectors such as the paper industry, retail, consulting services and the alcohol industry, shared with us interesting insights on how their organisations are seeking new ways to do business.

Two main ideas that I want to highlight from the discussion are the nature of these companies’ innovations and how these organisations still need to engage in collaborative efforts so that what they are creating doesn’t remain as isolated case studies of good practices.

Each of the organisations represented in the panel has developed innovative programmes seeking sustainability and social impact, however interestingly they have done so driven by completely different motives. For example, Deborah Holmes, Global Director Corporate Social Responsibility from Ernest & Young explained how her organisation has identified that the key for their long term sustainability is related to increasing the satisfaction and retention rates of their employees. Quoting E&Y CEO Deborah said “we have no assets other than those that walk out the door every day” and this has been the engine for developing several programmes that among other things are aimed to fostering leadership, entrepreneurship and personal satisfaction. On the other hand, New Leaf Paper represents an organisation that breaths sustainability because it was originally created under this mandate. For Jeff Mendelsohn, Founder and CEO, having a sustainable and green approach is not a complementary approach to their mainstream business, it is the business itself and their source of competitive advantage. For Mike Barry, Head of Sustainability Businesses, Marks & Spencer, delving into sustainable and responsible business practices represents not only doing good but also doing well. They have set the goal of becoming a carbon neutral organisation and this has forced them to redesign their business model seeking to optimise their process which at the end has generated profits through high efficiencies and cost reductions. Finally, for Alberto Vollmer, Chairman and CEO from Ron Santa Teresa, the creation of project Alcatraz is a matter of survival given the difficult social and political environment of Venezuela. The achievements made by this social initiative programme have given them recognition and credibility in a highly instable environment which is highly important for the long term sustainability of the organisation.

In other words, we had social and sustainable approaches driven by human capital satisfaction, mission, efficiency and credibility, which tell us that it doesn’t matter the nature of the industry or the drive that motivates social/sustainable innovation, as long as the organisations can channel these type of efforts as a source of competitive advantage it will be very likely to have a positive impact in more than one bottom line.

Now the challenge is how these successful individual efforts and practices can be mainstreamed. The topic of this year’s Forum “Catalysing Collaboration” is something that still needs to be addressed when looking to the private efforts to develop sustainable and social responsible models. The International Development sectors, NGOs and pure ‘social entrepreneurs’ are already developing collaboration mechanisms, however traditional business, perhaps driven by their competitive nature, haven´t reached out yet.