Twenty years ago, if you had looked at the top 250 UK companies and asked how many would exist in 2016, what would you have said? It’s in the region of 15%. Mergers and acquisitions cloud the statistic a little but you get the point. I heard another stat this week: around 65% of job roles that we’ll need in 2050 don’t yet exist. That’s history, folks!
The point is that business models change, markets change, policies change, people change.
Medium-scale businesses are increasingly realising that disruptive technologies and opportunities from sustainable development (oh, and risks too) are no longer merely a matter of reputation and trust. They note that long-term competitive advantage, security and survival depend on responding to the changes and disruptions.
Large corporates often claim success in sustainability practices in operations and supply chain, but often it’s over-claiming. They’re fire fighting like the rest of us!
However, whatever business model you use, have a think about how to change with the world, rather than shy away from it. Apply a small percentage of your busy schedule to the longer view. And know that understanding how your business interacts with Sustainable Development or Sustainability.
Millennials – the new demographic – unsurprisingly want different things to baby-boomers. They view the world of capitalism differently. They will be running your business in the future, too! So, how can sustainability help?
Understand how what your business does relates to the wider set of higher Goals. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been published, adopted by 190 governments, and they cover:
- climate change
- water scarcity
- food insecurity
- waste and pollution
- human rights
They are being transferred into national policy in countries around the world, a ripple effect follows.
Talk to people affected by your business. Such conversations really help. If you or your customer is attacked by one of the more militant varieties of pressure group, then offer to sit down with them around a table. Discuss it. Resolve it. Work together. They have their agenda and business model (e.g. subscriptions for being ‘progressive campaigners’) too.
Write a report about relevant topics. You need to cover the topics that reflect your significant economic, environmental and social impacts or that substantively influence the assessments and decisions of your stakeholders. Talk to your trade body, look at your peers, look at GRI’s database, review CorporateRegister.com, or ask AB’s specialist reporting team.
Capitalise on it. Use your new sustainability document like a ‘marketing brochure’. Get it designed properly, use social media or video/animation. Ask your customers what they think about it.
Finally, be inspired to explore a little the changing world.
Keep things simple. Example: The Global Reporting Initiative is simplifying its Sustainability Report Framework, into a set of Standards that include ‘all of the main concepts and disclosures from the G4 Guidelines, presented with clearer language and a new structure that meets the expectations and requirements of a global standard’.
Drop the sustainability jargon, talk about risk. What about how the opportunities help you grow, exponentially?
Think about social value – global population is growing, China’s affluent are numerous now.
Think disruptive – new tech start-ups that do what big companies do, or new forms of capital such as natural capital or social entrepreneurship. The circular economy is now serious news. The take-make-waste model is out. The closed-loop value model is in.
Your innovative ponderings may be the difference for you and your business.
Or, put it another way, if you were going to set up your business again, from scratch, how would you do it? You’d likely look at the wider risks such as sustainability and supply chain resilience. You might build a new one that looks completely different. You’d get recognised as a leader. You can’t put a price on that.
Author: Alex Nichol
Alex Nichols, Senior Sustainability Reporting Consultant, Director ANCL and Associate Director Paia Consulting. Alex works with AB on reporting projects. To take advantage of AB’s support based on over 10 years of reporting experience, along with our specialist reporting associates, then please do get in touch.