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Lessons on how to approach sustainability on a corporate level

sustainability on a corporate level

Reflecting on a recent Sopheon webinar I hosted – How to approach sustainability on a corporate level – the first webinar in our Thriving Sustainably series.

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What did we learn?

Many companies are making truly impressive and tangible progress in their journeys to thrive sustainably. We learned that sustainability strategies should be foundational elements of how a company conducts its business.

Was it all easy and done in a day? No, the transition to lower GHG emissions, reduce water stress and drive circularity into their supply chains has largely been gradual. Still, there is increasing pressure from consumers, company employees, and from regulations to accelerate change.

The path to sustainable product development is long

As we heard from Dr. Sebastian Roos, Innovation Manager at Evonik, developing products that fundamentally shift the sustainability footprint of your product portfolio takes time and energy. However, once placed at the core of your strategy, change within your organizational culture can rapidly drive your innovation and product development toward those goals.

It's very hard to look down the value chain and the downstream, and you have to incorporate the entire value chain. You cannot just go to your customer and say, ‘Well, what about sustainability?’” Dr. Roos said.

According to Dave McAdam, Director of Portfolio Management at Novelis, when sustainable business processes are weaved into the DNA of your company, transformation gathers momentum, and there is simply no going back.

"You must elevate these goals to be on par with your revenue aspirations”. Dave McAdam

And what of the impact of regulation – both commercial and governmental? Hannah Keartland, Outsource Chief Impact Officer at Keartland & Co, describes that the consensus of the rate of change required is outstripping regulatory bodies, and those companies and leaders that adopt changes early will be those who will be the market leaders innovating at pace, making data-driven decisions and meeting consumer demand for sustainable products.

“If people are in different places on (sustainability), and if there are people who don't think this is the right thing to be doing, you need to have those conversations upfront. Otherwise, it's really hard to have a cohesive strategy,” said Keartland.

Dr. Jan Sultemeyer, Global Head of Innovation & Sustainability at Avient, reinforced the importance of consumer-based change as the strongest lever for companies to strategically pivot towards sustainable product portfolios. That pivot includes every part of your supply value chain as companies address partnering and raw material sourcing right through a product’s lifecycle to disposal.

“When you come from a long history of building up these kinds of programs, there was a lot of pushback in the past, honestly, because it was not so important, and it just was, 'You need people to do that, and it takes time, and it's complex, and nobody really knows how to do it.' It's not enough to have a few sustainability managers in a company who do all that because then people will say, "Sustainability, it's the guy over there. I have nothing to do with that." said Sultemeyer.

We learned how taking a structured approach to innovation with Accolade® – not just a siloed, piecemeal approach as outlined above by Jan Sultermeyer – has allowed innovation teams and decision-makers to have a common, often global, platform and see the context and potential impact of their decisions and to forecast how those decisions could impact sustainability goals.

Leadership is critical in driving sustainable organizations

In this webinar, we explored many aspects of how companies approach sustainability at the corporate level, and the key takeaway is that this is about leadership and change. You need to get the leadership on board so that they can lead the cultural change.

“The businesses that are able to transform and achieve the most change are the ones who embed sustainability across the whole organization into the culture, into everyone's role.” Hannah Keartland

I’ll leave you with that thought – it takes every part of a company and value chain to truly thrive sustainably, but it needs real and determined leadership to show the way.

The World Economic Forum estimates that the circular economy could be a $4.5 trillion business opportunity. We hope this webinar and the series will offer ideas on how you might turn a monumental challenge into a significant opportunity.

Make sure to watch the full webinar to learn more about incorporating sustainability into your business strategy. 
sustainability webinarLearn more about sustainability in innovation and new product development with this Sopheon guide. You’ll find out what questions you need to ask to help reduce your organization’s environmental impact and identify areas of success and improvement.

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