As a Board Director and Global Business Executive, I work with businesses across the globe. I also keep a close eye on how different sectors are reacting to the global environmental emergency as a frequent contributor on business news programs.
Despite all the challenges of the last 18 months, there have been some very positive developments from sustainable businesses around the world. It seems that more and more companies are switching on to the value of running a sustainable business, and they are turning to collaboration to help them achieve their goals. At times linking up with some unlikely partners.
I (virtually) sat down with three leaders in their industries to explore how collaboration is helping them achieve their sustainable business goals.
Sustainable Technology Business – HP CEO, Enrique Lores
HP gets consistently recognized for its commitment as a sustainable business. Newsweek recently ranked HP as America’s Most Responsible Company each of the past two years, but that is not enough for HP’s CEO Enrique Lores. Speaking to Enrique on this topic, one can easily observe his passion and commitment to leaving a better place for the next generation.
“There needs to be an immediate, radical change to address sustainability in technology, in order to make an impact.” He tells me, “sustainability cannot be a separate objective; it needs to be fully integrated in the business objectives.”
HP has committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions across all of the HP value chain by 2040, beginning with their Supplies business achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. They are the only technology company to set a goal to address deforestation that goes beyond their own paper-fiber sourcing. Contributing to a more circular economy is another big priority, with HP committing to get at least 75% of its total annual product and packaging content from recycled and renewable materials by 2030.
Using the power of partners
The recognition that they need help is why last year, they launched a partner program called Amplify Impact. It’s designed to mobilize the company’s global ecosystem of more than 200,000 partners to take sustainable actions.
The program is a first of its kind in the industry and provides partner assessment, resources and training to empower HP partners to set their own targets in the areas of climate action, human rights, social justice and digital equity.
Enrique is optimistic about the future of sustainable business and encouraged by the increasing number of conversations about sustainability over the last few years. But, as he points out “there still needs to be a magnitude of change that must occur and it must be very significant.”
Can we all follow Enrique’s example, to adopt the sustainable business mindset and start constantly asking the question: “where can we have a bigger impact”?
Sustainable Finance Business – Devin Banerjee, Editor at Large, Business & Finance at LinkedIn
In the finance sector, sustainability and sustainable practices are heating up. Devin Banerjee, Editor at Large, Business & Finance at LinkedIn told me, “We are at the tipping point in the finance sector in particular and if you listen to every earnings call… every company is involved in this trend (sustainability) in some way.”
Devin points to Blackrock, the world’s largest asset manager that controls over $9 trillion dollars. Its CEO Larry Fink made waves last year with his letter to CEOs: “A Fundamental Reshaping of Finance.” Devin says, “Blackrock’s commitment to sustainability and sustainable activism was monumental. The fact that they began using their clout as an investor with companies around Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG), placed many of these companies ‘on notice’, including a lot of Wall Street.”
When it comes to collaboration in the sector, Devin highlighted a “watershed moment this year that woke up the energy sector” – the proxy battle of ExxonMobil. By collaborating with big-name shareholders like Blackrock, Vanguard, and State Street, the activist hedge fund Engine No. 1 was able to get three directors elected to Exxon Mobil’s board. This forced oil and gas giant to commit to carbon neutrality, to find more renewable sources and adopt less drilling as a strategy going forward.
Put your money where your mouth is
The world’s biggest investment fund working with a group of financial activists – surely the best example of collaboration to create change in sustainable business?
It is about “dollar figures and commitments,” according to Devin. From his position at LinkedIn, he also sees a shift in the conversation on the world’s largest professional network.
Clearly this matches the sentiment of what is going on in real time. Expect more bold moves coming from this sector of sustainable business!
Sustainable Sports Business – Katja Schreiber, Head of Sustainability at adidas
Collaboration has been part of the adidas strategy for years, but sustainability is one area where they live this in a very visible way. The company has a goal to help end plastic waste – this means that by 2024, they’ll replace virgin polyester with recycled polyester wherever possible, and by 2025 9 out of 10 of their articles will carry a sustainable technology, material, design, or manufacturing method. They also commit to be carbon neutral throughout their entire supply chain by 2050. This is change on a global scale that cannot be ignored, and also a massive challenge.
Head of Sustainability Katja Schreiber told me they realized early in the journey that they would need to team up with partners outside the company to help make adidas a more sustainable business.
“We are optimists. But we’re also realists. Our task becomes bigger and more urgent every day. We cannot work alone. It’s time for solutions. Big solutions. There is only one way to create a more sustainable future, and that is to co-create it. Collaboration.”
Teaming up with the competition
Sometimes this means joining forces with your rivals, which is what adidas have done through their Allbirds collaboration. Katja explains, “We came together with Allbirds to show that when two competitors collaborate, anything is possible. Our ambition was to develop the lowest carbon emissions performance running shoe ever created. By opening up and sharing knowledge and resources, we have accelerated change across all fronts, rethinking every step in the process and iterating faster. We’ve gone faster together than we ever could alone.”
From media, to corporations, to governments – it is exciting to see sustainable business ideas being discussed in the mainstream, more than ever before. It is also refreshing to see great leaders are having more thoughtful conversations and finding new ways to make a larger impact.
So what is next and what should we expect to see? Operating outside of the usual framework of business is the only way to make a big difference when it comes to sustainability initiatives. When it comes to making an impact on a global level, one thing is clear and trending, collaboration with friends, partners, AND competitors is something we are going to see more of in the future.