Recap: Future-Proofing Businesses
April 22, 2014 | 2697 views
Building off the advance series collection of articles written by delegates and speakers of this year's Skoll World Forum, this section will feature live blogs and pieces from the event in Oxford. We will be covering a wide variety of sessions, panels and discussions on-site. View the live-stream on the homepage, and watch here for real-time articles all week! -- Each year at the Skoll World Forum, nearly 1,000 of the world’s most influential social entrepreneurs, key thought leaders and strategic partners gather at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School to exchange ideas, solutions and information. Learn more about the 2014 Skoll World Forum, sign up to our newsletter to be notified of the live stream, view the 2014 delegate roster and discover what themes and ideas we'll be covering this year at the event. Also, read about the seven recipients of this year's Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.
John Elkington introduces the accounting for business strategy guru Michael Porter and FSG Founder Mark Kramer’s efforts to sensitize multinational corporate boards to the concepts of shared value creation. He notes CEO Paul Polman’s lauded achievements of driving the sustainability agenda at Unilever, and then lets the question drop.
What happens when these sustainability luminaries leave the spotlight? Who will take over after them? Who will be the guardian over the sustainability agenda at Unilever after Mr. Polman? How do we secure progress made? “If you really press senior people or academics to do something differently, you hit the structural fundamentals of what people are measured against, their pay packets and the league tables that universities are measured against,” says Mr. Elkington before introducing the panel.
Mike Barry, Director of sustainable business at UK retail giant Marks & Spencer, gives a candid account of rolling out the firms sustainability program called “Plan A”. “I’m going to tell you things that didn’t work and how we fixed them”. Central management and money to drive the program? Fail. It wasn’t until business unit managers were given control and accountability over the program that they started connecting with the message and driving change. A global business case of making GBP 130m on introducing sustainability? Fail. Once a business unit value-added business case was socialized with managers things really started embedding into the business and organization. 100 sustainability commitments presented to management? Fail. Now every business unit has specific commitments translated into their business plan. We thought we were going to win on our own. Fail. One firm does not change an industry. We have to find ways of working together with out competitors to realize the opportunities. We talked to customers about how green we were? Fail. 90% found our communication odd and unfamiliar. Articulating customer benefits clearly is critical to drive demand for sustainability.
Marcela Manubens, Global vice president for social impact at Unilever, concurs on Mr. Barry’s point of driving relevance for individuals to achieve change. She sees her challenge as helping “173,000 employees understand what social impact means in their everyday job, incorporating civil and human rights into everything they do.” But Ms. Manubens also recognizes difficulties: “change starts with the consumer. If you can see the footprint for everything you consume, would you make more conscious choices?” That’s not a given. She suggests that it is easier to create win-wins with a green agenda. “Social is more difficult and there is a long road to meet ambitions,” she says. “We live in a VUCA world: volatile uncertain, complex, ambiguous (…) With so many blurred lines, who is responsible? How do we build purposeful strategy and foundations for sustainable business?” Big business has difficult questions to grapple with.
Mr. Elkington’s remark on the commitment of individual executives hangs in the room. What would happen if Paul Polman left Unilever? Feike Sijbesma, Chairman and CEO of Royal DSM suggests “commitment is everything”. And Mr. Sijbesma surely seems to be committed. “This is my confession as a CEO of a global life science and food company with 14bn sales – the richest 1 billion are consuming 45% of the worlds resources but the Indian and Chinese middle classes will claim their share and if we cannot do more with less, they will teach us to do less with less. (…) People, planet, profits, this is the fight I have with fellow CEOs (…) companies like Apple, that have more money than many whole countries cannot claim not to be a part of the equation, nor can anyone else. (…) National decision makers cannot claim they can solve the issues, because they are so interdependent in globalized markets its not up to them. (…) The financial sector was developed to facilitate and stimulate, not steer and strong arm society. That design has failed (…) Half of the pharmaceutical markets treat diseases we ourselves have created in the past 30 years.” Around we go.
Commitment and rolling up sleeves seems to be the message to big business, from other big businesses doing it better.