If sustainability isn’t one of your priorities – it should be

Protecting the environment is a collective task and one we should all be contributing to. From a personal perspective, I am passionate about protecting our planet for future generations.

I am continually looking for ways I can live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, from installing solar panels on my house to recycling wherever possible. However, thoughts on how we can be more responsible in business has not been as priority for me – until a recent meeting with a multinational CEO, who opened up a critical debate on sustainability that has got me thinking.

The CEO in question was Feike Sijbesma of DSM, who has put sustainability at the core of his business strategy. As part of a strategic supplier day, his leadership team presented their updated sustainability strategy to their key partners.

They detailed how DSM is looking to evolve further into a purpose-led, science-based company in nutrition, health and sustainable living. Their message was loud and clear. Sustainability is key to the way DSM plans to do business with its partners in the future, and it expects this to be reciprocal. Why? Because DSM has realized that it needs the support of its partner ecosystem to deliver on its sustainability promises.

It was at this moment I realized that it is critical that business collectively steps up to take on the responsibility of sustainability.

It wasn’t that long ago that green and profitable just didn’t go together. Boardroom thinking, however, has changed, and businesses can no longer afford to ignore sustainability. Especially as innovative business leaders are now flagging up greener thinking as a source of competitive advantage for the future.

Instead of trying to fly solo, these path-finding organizations know they need partners and stakeholders as part of a sustainability ecosystem to reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This means working together. Sustainability is thus becoming an intrinsic way of doing business. Organizations that can’t collaborate on sustainability will undoubtedly lose business in the future.

According to McKinsey’s global survey report, enterprises are more active at pursuing sustainability and are formalizing the way they govern sustainability programs. But there is still a gap between values and actions. This is where sustainability must be built into the overall business strategy – delivering business value and at the same time protecting our planet for future generations.

Global sustainability targets

We are seeing governments and organizations using the 2015 Paris Climate agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) I mentioned earlier to set out plans for sustainability. The 17 SDGs covering social and economic development issues include global warming, energy, environment, poverty and education.

These SDGs not only highlight where we need to be by 2030 to create a sustainable world, but they also underscore new markets and opportunities. Over 9,500 organizations have already joined the UN initiative in support of the SDGs. Participants represent diverse industries, from IT to construction, and are located in 160 countries. The truth, however, is we have a long way to go if we are to meet those targets in just eleven years’ time!

Taking action

As far as internal mobilization, alignment and visibility, Orange Business has undoubtedly stepped up to the plate. Going a step further, we are now connecting Orange corporate social responsibility (CSR) with DSM’s objectives, for example.

It is important we don’t just drive our own CSR ambitions to deliver on our own sustainable development goals. With this in mind, we are building an organization that will answer the needs of our partner ecosystem and understand how we can contribute to our clients’ objectives.

The DSM message was very clear, if companies don’t want to adhere to its objectives and work hand in hand to achieve them, it may be time to re-consider the partnership. Orange Business is taking the opportunity to work with DSM on this important sustainability journey.

Sustainable technologies can help the planet and business growth

The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate (GCEC) report, Unlocking the Inclusive Growth Story of the 21st Century, has gone all out to dismiss the belief that addressing environmental issues will hobble economic growth. It maintains that increasing investments in sustainable technologies could increase economic output globally by $26 trillion by 2030.

The GCEC argues that globally we have reached a crossroads, and if organizations are going to commit to sustainability, they have to do it now – or it will be too late. The GCEC is requesting that governments prioritize a number of key sustainability areas to trigger the economic growth it believes is possible. These include harnessing the power of the private sector and unleashing innovation.

The report calls for a big push on innovation, in particular through international partnerships and financing to tackle challenges beyond energy, such as strategic initiatives to implement deforestation-free supply chains for key commodities, for example.

As I’ve seen, forward-thinking organizations are already one step ahead. They have realized that they can’t create the sustainable future they envisage by going it alone, so they are linking up with partners to reach these goals.

Working towards a sustainable future

The concept of sustainability has been around for a decade or more. But to reach those sustainability development goals, organizations are going to have to step up a gear. The next phase of sustainability drives into the very core of business, investment and buying decisions. Collaboration will be critical in creating and sustaining efficient sustainability practices.

Since our initial strategic partner meeting with DSM, we have gone through some more concrete activities to improve and contribute to their sustainability objectives and targets. This highlights how important we believe partnership is when it comes to sustainability. From a personal point of view, I’m excited to see how innovation can help us reach sustainability targets and have a positive impact on the environment.

In my next blogs, I’ll walk you through our evolving relationship with DSM and the positive outcomes this emerging sustainability strategy will help us collectively achieve.

Frank Baggermans

Frank is Managing Director of Benelux and leads enterprise activities across Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. He studied commercial economics and marketing in Utrecht and has over 20 years of business and technology leadership experience. Frank is the proud father of two sons and, in his free time, he enjoys being with his family and friends, sailing, playing tennis, golfing and experiencing new sights.