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What's the best way to safeguard corporate sustainability goals during times of crisis?

What's the best way to safeguard corporate sustainability goals during times of crisis?

Executives can protect sustainability goals by focusing on the projects that become revenue drivers, clarifying mission statements before crises hit and using data, according to members of Protocol's Braintrust.


Christopher Wellise

Chief Sustainability Officer at HPE

Although sustainability may not appear top-of-mind for many companies blighted by the pandemic, solving customer challenges remains a priority for all business leaders. As HPE's chief sustainability officer, it's my responsibility to demonstrate how sustainable solutions can meet customer needs, whether that's helping them to address inefficiencies in their IT environments in order to scale their digital backbone, or ensuring that products are delivered reliably and ethically. While many businesses have suffered during this time, for others, the pandemic has accelerated their need for economically and environmentally scalable digital transformation.

Companies that have already integrated sustainability into their business strategies, before the virus hit, can continue to drive competitive advantage and cost savings by focusing on the goals and initiatives that deliver top-line value, motivate their employees and catalyze innovation. This begins with measuring the return on investment of sustainability initiatives and elevating those that require scarce capital, offer high returns and support corporate purpose. At HPE, we've flipped sustainability from a cost center to a revenue generator, delivering measurable customer wins and returns. This has not faltered through the pandemic; rather, we have seen increased interest in sustainable IT infrastructure and outcomes.

In order to drive toward sustainability goals, decision-makers must also be armed with the systems and tools to factor in these considerations. The timing for this is ripe as recovering companies digitize and transform their business processes in the wake of the pandemic. For instance, the risk of future shocks such as climate impacts can be reduced by integrating climate-related risks into enterprise risk management, and a variety of supply chain risks can be mitigated through the implementation of track and trace technologies.

Your customers, investors and employees are watching closely. This is no time to waiver on sustainability commitments. The pandemic has tested the relevance of sustainability and ESG more broadly, and I believe we are seeing the evidence that sustainability has passed the COVID test. At HPE, we're staying focused on our long-term commitment to become net zero across our value and help our customers sustainably accelerate their digital transformations in the wake of this pandemic.

Jen Bennett

Technical Director, Office of the CTO, Google Cloud

When crisis strikes, business leaders are driven to take a close look at what is core to their business. Often we see leaders focus on the bottom line, but just as importantly, they must be focused on the top line and what is differentiating the business and its products. If we look at sustainability, particularly now during a global crisis, several strategies are emerging that will help keep sustainability at the center of decision-making, both during times of crisis and well after.

Today, sustainability is on the front page, not the back page; it's front and center for companies. Leaders are increasingly seeing sustainability as a key facet of their mission or principles and build it into their mission, their principles and their strategy. Navigating through corporate web pages, it is clear on the front page what their level of commitment is and how sustainability plays into their business goals and strategies. Sustainability is no longer just a "cool" thing to do or "trendy" with the millennials, it is about purpose and is critical to differentiation, growth, product and business success.

Sustainability is increasingly being positioned as a differentiator that matters for companies' products and for their overall businesses. For example, take major corporations that sell consumer products. By making their supply chain sustainable or sourcing from sustainable suppliers, that has the potential to reach and affect billions of people.

Most importantly, leaders are recognizing that sustainability is about the resilience of the business. This decade will be pivotal in the fight against climate change, and leaders need to implement new strategies and partner with companies across industries to achieve sustainability goals. For example, supply chain and financial leaders of successful companies are now acknowledging and articulating the business risk due to sustainability. Whether that is risk from investment or lack thereof, supply chain disruptions or perhaps taxes, the conversation is no longer the sole responsibility of activists, it must be a boardroom conversation and part of a strategy to ensure resilience and success now and in the future.

Lila Preston

Partner & Co-Head of Growth Equity at Generation Investment Management

On days like those in recent weeks, when the birds didn't sing in California, things feel quite unsustainable. And yet, there has never been a more important moment for investors to ingrain the full potential of sustainability in all its dimensions. That is by assessing companies based on both what they do and how they do it. What a company does includes the products and services it offers, the financial profile of the firm and its long-term impact on customers and communities. How a company achieves its outcomes includes its culture, alignment, governance practices, stakeholder engagement and the diversity of its management teams and boards.

At Generation we use a framework called System Positive to assess companies that we believe will drive and thrive in the transition to a more sustainable economy. We've seen many of our portfolio companies step up over the past six months because of their clarity of mission and purpose. For example, Toast launched "Rally for Restaurants" and helped restaurants go digital overnight; and Convoy, the digital freight brokerage, created an emergency resource center for shippers and drivers working tirelessly to get vital goods into communities that needed them most.

When sustainability thinking is inherent in what you do and how you do it, the actions that need to be taken during times of crisis are intuitive. And if they are authentic and linked to a company's mission and purpose, they can also build enduring brand, reputation and market value.

Hannah Pawlby

Partner at Freuds

The author and activist Arundhati Roy recently described pandemics as opportunities for the world to imagine itself anew, explaining their potential to create "a portal or a gateway from one world to the next."

Today, the silhouette of that gateway has become very clear. The world has already imagined itself anew. The Global Goals are a super-detailed blueprint, agreed by 193 countries in 2015, for transformation for people and planet by 2030. If we are to emerge from this crisis, then the Goals are the portal that will transform our direction.

This week, in the year of the 75th anniversary of the U.N., we must ensure they are central to our way ahead and that crucial sustainability targets are not discarded by the wayside.

Together governments and companies must seize the importance of safeguarding the Goals and enact them with practical applications, hard strategies and the mass adoption of clean and green tech solutions. Five years on from their creation, the Goals provide us with a global plan and a to-do list of actions for people and planet.

Join influential international figures in seeking action on the Global Goals at goalshouse.com throughout UNGA Week.

Suzanne DiBianca

Executive Vice President of Corporate Relations and Chief Impact Officer at Salesforce

We are now in an unprecedented time, in the midst of several concurrent crises.

Climate change is happening before our eyes with the Arctic burning and the West Coast wildfires raging. Only through catalyzing global systemic change can we hope to reach a 1.5 degrees Celsius future. Every individual, government and corporation has an essential role to play.

I believe that businesses are one of the greatest platforms for change. We all have a role to play based on our unique skills and core competencies. Now is the time for businesses to reassess their values and become more responsible and sustainable for now and future generations. We have shared our Clean Energy Strategy, detailing our plan to reach 100% renewable energy by 2022, and ask others to commit to their own journey.

Adversity prompts innovation. Throughout COVID-19, we've seen accelerated leaps forward in innovative solutions for climate action. Last year, we launched Salesforce Sustainability Cloud, a carbon accounting product to enable businesses to quickly track, analyze and report reliable environmental data to help them reduce their carbon emissions. And this week we launched a Sustainability at Home guide to help employees — at Salesforce and beyond — work more comfortably and sustainability from home.

Be both bold and transparent. This year, Salesforce set a goal to mobilize and support the growth and conservation of 100 million trees by 2030; in partnership with 1t.org — a multi-stakeholder initiative to grow, restore and conserve 1 trillion trees within this decade. In partnership with Plant-for-the-Planet, we launched our first digital tree tracker, built on the Salesforce Platform that tracks our progress toward our tree goal, highlights our partners and enables donations.

Dr. Tariq Bin Hendi

Director General at the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO)

It is important to remember that we operate in an ecosystem, not a vacuum, and in times of crisis we need to recalibrate and reset. This pandemic has been a timely reminder of the importance of agile, long-term business planning. Whether it is a one- or five-year plan, businesses need to be in a position to pivot and adapt to maintain the integrity of purpose-driven goals.

Abu Dhabi is turning challenges into opportunities by helping companies develop innovative, sustainable solutions that are relevant not only in the UAE, but across the region and around the globe. For Abu Dhabi's ag-tech sector in particular, we continue to collaborate with leading regional and global ag-tech companies to develop next-generation desert and arid climate agriculture solutions. Our objective is to support the development of innovations that will help to future-proof food security challenges both locally and globally.

To do this, we work with companies establishing in Abu Dhabi to see how we can help de-risk key areas. This includes ensuring our policies and regulations support companies with ESG at the core. Due to a strong drive for sustainability across the emirate, we have found that ESG-focused companies plug easily into Abu Dhabi's ecosystem.

Ezgi Barcenas

Head of Sustainability at Anheuser-Busch InBev

Designing for resilience.

In the events surrounding UNGA, in the dozen or so inspiring and courageous conversations I've joined, one question emerged: Are companies pivoting long-term sustainability strategy to prioritize short-term action?

The short answer is no; not if the corporate sustainability strategy has been designed for resilience. The best way to safeguard corporate sustainability priorities is to make them central to business. For us at AB InBev, brewing great beers depends on a healthy environment and thriving communities. With an outward-in approach to solve the shared challenges our value chain and communities face, we collectively become more agile, adaptable and innovative.

Take our smart agriculture efforts, for example. Our 2025 Sustainability Goal is to ensure 100% of our farmers will be skilled, connected and financially empowered. By putting the farmer at the heart of our efforts and ramping up access to digital tools we deployed before the pandemic, our teams were able to continue supporting our farmers throughout the phases of lockdown to ensure their livelihoods and our supply security.

Building resilience takes time and focus. We must find new ways to partner if we will truly tackle the world's greatest challenges.

See who's who in Protocol's Braintrust (updated Sept. 23, 2020).

Questions, comments or suggestions? Email braintrust@protocol.com

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