The transition to sustainability has begun. And there is no turning back. But for companies, this evolution doesn't have to be negative. Those who see it as an opportunity can thoroughly transform their business or even become a pioneer in the field.
Sustainability is high on the agenda these days – and not only for companies. Politicians, too, recognize that they must take responsibility, and consumers realize that they can make a difference through their choices.
"Ensuring a sustainable world is the challenge that lies ahead for all of us," says Michael Wagemans, Head of Sustainability at KPMG. "There is no alternative. We must go full on for sustainability if we want to leave a livable planet for our children and grandchildren. Companies can and should play an important role in this. After all, they have a major advantage in their ability to combine a more sustainable world with an economic model."
From risk to opportunity
Just because there is no choice does not mean that companies should view sustainability in a negative light. "Sustainability is slowly crystallizing," says Michael Wagemans. "On the one hand, you can limit yourself to complying with legislation and guidelines and thus remedy the negative impact you have on the planet as a company. Then you just follow your competitors or the market. On the other hand, you can include sustainability as a central element in the transformation of your company. Some companies are even playing a real pioneering role. I am thinking of the clothing brand Patagonia or Paul Polman, who as CEO, made Unilever highly sustainable. More and more CEOs no longer see this topic as a risk, but as an opportunity. For them it is an important way to grow. The time when shareholder value was the only thing that mattered is now in the past."
This also creates an added dimension to the balance sheet. After all, sustainability does not necessarily have to be an expense. It can also be an investment or even a revenue stream. "Although the truth probably lies somewhere in between," Michael Wagemans adds. "You can make the necessary savings to make your bottom line more profitable, but it can equally be a top-line investment. After all, a sustainable company increases its employee value proposition and reputation. And, depending on your sector, there are probably assets that you might write off unexpectedly."
The sustainability journey
Anyone who wants to make their company more sustainable must take a number of steps. "Everything starts, of course, with a strategy," says Michael Wagemans. "But it is also good to be well-prepared. Think about which Environment, Social & Governance (ESG) topics are important for your company. Does renewable energy offer opportunities? Is inclusion an important key to attracting talent? And how do you report on your progress?"
It is also important not to go down this path alone – with the sole participation of a management committee. Michael Wagemans: "In this phase it is best to consult your stakeholders. I am thinking of employees, clients, suppliers, but perhaps also of NGOs with whom you could collaborate. They can provide an outside perspective that can add the necessary nuance."
"Actually, you can view sustainability as a journey that you go through together as a company," Michael Wagemans concludes. "It is crucial to get everyone on the same page."
The sustainability journey
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