Sustainable Innovation


6 Myths about managing sustainability

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What do sustainability managers do?

It’s a question I’m often asked. Back in 2009, before I worked in this field, I started to interview sustainability managers from across Europe trying to come up with an answer. I wanted to understand their work, their top skills, how they stayed eager and determined, and whether ‘managing sustainability’ was going to be a short-lived business trend or here to stay. I was reflecting if this ‘métier’ would be something for me. I started to write blog articles and compiled them in a book ‘Your customers want your products to be green’. Since the start of that journey, I have realized there are a few misconceptions about sustainability managers. Hereby, my top six:

Myth #1  Sustainability managers must have studied ecology.

It is true that Mother Nature is close to the heart of most employees that drive sustainability in their company. Some studied ecology or environmental engineering. However, many sustainability managers landed in their jobs from a broad educational and professional backgrounds. Just to name a few: economics, medicine, marketing, engineering and finance. What does this say? Companies want experienced people in senior roles hence they tend to promote people from within their organisation with relevant expertise in one of the known domains. Junior positions are open for people directly from university who studied sustainability or corporate social responsibility as a main topic. The great consequence of the diverse backgrounds is that the mix of past experiences helps to build bridges with other functions.

Myth #2  For sustainability you don’t need to understand the business.

Wrong. You won’t be able to steer a company towards a better societal impact if you do not know how the company is being run, how it develops, produces, markets and sells its products and services. You see companies setting goals both on profit and social progress, but both effects are created by means of their main activities: business. You have to understand how environmental and social impact can be created through the core business, and how they are related to business opportunities and growth. It also helps if you can use sustainability to support marketing and sales.

Myth #3  Sustainability managers use a wand to change the organization.

Not true at all! Sure, some peope may be inspired as by a flash of lighting, after seeing a movie, reading a book or article. Some sustainbility managers are gifted storytellers who dazzle their audiences. Usually though, managers who are tasked with steering higher sustainability standards must first equip themselves with rock solid science-based metrics then work hard to drive change. They have to define, roadtest and baseline well-defined KPIs and dashboards. They also must coordinate structured dialogues and reporting processes to monitor and manage change. Magic does happen. Many people are inspired, willing to make the extra mile. It however rarely involves wands.

Myth #4  They are rising stars

Social entrepreneurs and sustainability leaders are highly aspirational. They want to change the world through business. They themselves, however, are not always the ones delivering that message on stage. For example, people may see the CEOs of companies like Philips, Unilever and DSM talking about societal impact and business ― and they want to become a star, just like the CEOs. What many people do not realize is that sustainability folks often operate behind the scenes, influencing and changing the organization in a stealthy way through coaching, by convening internal intervention groups, shaping key notes, and advising on internal changes. Although the sustainability team is rarely on stage, there is a fair chance the change has been initiated, followed-up and followed-through by them so that the leadership, sales teams and other ‘stars’ can go out and tell that story.

Myth #5 The best approach is top-down.

‘Without ambitious targets from the top, nobody will move’. This may be true and helpful in high power-distance company cultures. However, in many companies a sole top-down approach would be counterproductive. It should at least be accompanied by or even driven by a bottom-up approach. Many companies install internal networks with ambassadors and champions to co-create and roll-out the sustainability strategy, engaging people from accross hierarchies and functions. It is very important to repack, reframe and repeat the ambitions as well as share best practices on how to approach dilemma’s, how to scale up, and reward those who do a good job. It is important to set the direction from the top, globally, but translation has to be done locally.

Myth #6. Sustainability management won’t be necessary in 10 years.

Sustainability will, sooner or later, become part of most business functions. As companies start to articulate their societal ‘purpose’ or ‘missions’ alongside business objectives, the yardsticks and interventions will be embedded in a range of functions like strategy, finance, innovation, marketing, sales and sourcing. Sustainability will help to  provide a compass for doing the right thing while doing business. It is however unlikely that the sustainability discipline will disappear completely within the next few years. Like Safety Health and Environment (SHE), quality management, supply chain management, the métier is likely to further develop and here to stay. Perhaps we will call it something else and maybe there will be multiple spin-off functions — but a central strategic, antenna, and supporting role is likely here to stay. I think we can look forward to a future of ‘Corporate Climate Warriors’ and ‘Chief Happiness Officers’ who will help take business to a new level.

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Best wishes for 2018

This summer I visited with my daughters the movie ‘Earth- Our Planet, Our Home’ in the Colombus Earth Center in Kerkrade (The Netherlands). The movie offers a spectacular insight in the life of astronauts:

How are astronauts preparing for their time in space? How do they experience to live in space and view the Earth from above? And what are their reflections once returned at Earth?

Columbus Earth Center

Dutch astronaut André Kuipers shared his epiphany moment when he looked down at Earth from space. ‘You realise it is just one Earth that is suitable for us as human beings. Forget about Mars or the Moon: This is the only possible habitat in the whole universe. He continues “We have to rethink energy consumption, food production and cities to allow for 10 billion to live in dignity on this planet’.

To me it is clear: To redesign our energy and food systems, the built environment and more, we will need ‘all hands on deck’. All ‘métiers‘ are needed to make the new systems sustainable, socially just ánd desirable. It is up to all of us, as designers, urban planners, sociologists, economists, data-experts, marketeers, scientists, film makers, architects, accountants, politicians, biochemists, social workers and artists to co-create this new world we would love to live in. (-60% of the cities by 2030 are still to be build yet so we better design them prepared for the future).

Where to start? First: Become a very good designer, urban planner, sociologist, economist, or any other profession. But then: Question your current frameworks and theories: Are they suitable for future proof systems? If not: Find out who is already starting in your domain to (re)design frames, learn more, question and join forces.

A number of new initiatives have emerged in recent years that give some directions. Think about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. A call for action to improve the lives of many by 2030 in 17 goals. Another source of inspiration is Kate Raworths’ thinking on the ‘Doughnut Economy’. Raworth rewrites the rules of economy: Our current focus on GDP should be replaced by a focus on the global economy operating in the safe and just space in which everyone enjoys basic social standards and we stay within planetary boundaries. And don’t forget Sir Ellen McArthur who explains to everyone who wants all about the circular economy, as well as Delft University Associate Professor Conny Bakker who developed with her colleagues very le concrete guidelines for circular product design: ‘Products that last’ . Take also the Milano Mayor, Giuseppi Sala for example, who puts into practices that ‘cities can be the trigger for food system change, reduce emission, ensure social inclusion and consumer behaviour change’. Also to be followed is the ‘Food Reform for Sustainable and Health ‘FReSH’ coalition : 37+ businesses and scientists who are determined to identify necessary dietary switches for people and planet and come up with business solutions that suit future proof food systems. Many more examples are out there, just learn, experiment and share what works!

My daughters have not decided yet if they want to be an astronaut or architect (I would be very happy with all choices) but I hope they will continue to be curious and  see opportunities to make a better world for all – building on the new insights of many.

Have a happy and relaxed Christmas time with your family and friends – and a great new year. Be curious, be bold, be brave!

Eart Our Planet Our Home

 

 

 



Take good care

 

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2016 has brought us many positive turns. Perhaps we start to understand how to keep this world a great place to live in? The Global Climate Agreements following COP21 in Paris were rectified. Renewable energy is taking over fossil fuels as the cost price decreases. The UN Sustainable Development Goals offer a shared framework for public and private sector to mitigate societal issues. Unfortunately we are still witnessing devastating wars,  severe inequality, and malnutrition issues .. we are not there yet.

My wish for 2017: Keep up the good work and take good care:

  • Take good care of the planet. Let’s keep the world the beautiful place and home as we know it. Use less stuff, use it longer, recycle and use renewables.
  • Take good care of the people. Pay respect and be gentle. Close to home and as far as you can reach. We are in this game together. Be kind.
  • Take good care of yourself.  Be the best version of yourself. Work hard and play hard. Make choices. Enjoy. Relax. Be inspired. Cycle. Paint. Play the piano ; ).

 Have a great 2017!

 

 



‘Solar cells that degrade like tree leaves’
November 1, 2016, 8:42 pm
Filed under: Directions for Sustainable Innovation, Sustainability News

Olga Malinkiewicz aims to develop solar cells ‘that can degrade like leaves on a tree’. She invented a procedure to print  ‘Perovskite crystels’ on foils that can heat up our houses. ‘This new technology might change the whole energy sector’. See the movie about Olgas scientific and entrepreneurial journey:

olga-malinkiewicz-explaining-how-perovskite-can-heat-our-homes

Are you also working on a renewable energy solution, solar or energy stockage, ready to scale up and interested in 500+ hours of technical & commercial coaching: Join the #BrightMindsChallenge

 



Before the flood

To document the devastating effects of climate change, Leonardo DiCaprio travelled around the world and spoke to scientists, governmental and industry leaders.

DiCaprio & team analysed the melted ice layers on Groenland, witnessed burning forests in Indonesia and inspected the white-washed ocean coral riffs out of a submarine. The science is clear. The future unfortunately isn’t.

We need the world to urgently switch to renewable energy, energy efficient buildings, sustainable cities, clean transport, less waste, act upon the Sustainable Development Goals.

A sign of the times – 2016: More information: https://www.beforetheflood.com.

You can watch the documentairy on You Tube: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=90CkXVF-Q8M

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Social impacts of products

Underpinning company mission

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An important reason to start measuring social impact is to underpin a company mission. More and more companies define company aspirations in terms of social impact. Take for instance Danone, that has a dual mission of business success and social impact. Philips aims to improve the lives of 3 billion people. And L’Oréal strives with its ‘Sharing Beaty for All’ program for all its products to have a social or environmental beneift. It is  important to substantiate these goals with tangible examples and report on progress based on solid metrics. How to do so?

Learning from NGOs and philantropy

Social progress is the ‘raison d’etre’ for Non-Gouvernemental Organisations (NGOs) and philantropic organisationsFor NGOs it would be unthinkable not to track the number of people lifted out of poverty, the income generated for small holder farmers or the number of girls educated. A number of tools and guidelines have become available to forecast and track progress , for instance those ‘Global Impact Investing Network’. The reporting guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative provide inspiration as well for companies that wish to steer on social impact. However, these type of guidances do not always provide the level of granularity needed to steer the social impact of products.

Social impact through products

Companies can create the largest positive impact with their products and services. Through products companies have the ability to create the most significant impact in society: billions of end-users are reached, manufacturing processes can be changed in own organisation and supplier organisations. The choices companies make for their products have a direct effect on the impacts the products have on the planet and people. These impacts are created in all stages of the product life cycle from extraction of raw materials – all the way to the producten, use phase and the end of life of a product.

Life cycle approach

The impacts created by products can be related to all stages of the product life cycle, .’Life Cycle Analyses’ have become a common methodology to assess the environmental impact of a product. Take for instance the standard defined by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) for life cycle assessments in the chemical sector. It is also possible to assess the social impacts along the life cycle. If you wish to integrate ‘people perspectives’ a good source is the Handbook for Product Social Impact Assessments developed by a group of industry peers.

Better for people and planet

DSM strives for products and innovations to be measurably better for the planet (Eco+) and people (People+)  based on a life cycle approach. By 2020 65% of DSMs products should be ‘Brighter Living Solutions’, measurably better for planet or people. Some examples:

  1. Alpaflor® Edelweiss is a personal care ingredient. It contributes to better skin health and comfort, and is sourced in a very socially sustainable way, contributing to good working circumstances and prosperity of farmers in the Swiss Valais region.
  2. Synthetic chains made of Dyneema® used for marine structure mooring are 8 times lighter and 70 times less noisy than steel chains. Users experience a safer and more comfortable use, shipping companies report improved operational efficiency.
  3. Medical gowns reinforced with breathable Arnitel VT® contribute to the protection of surgeons against virus and bacteria in high risk hospital environments, and allow surgeons to work in a comfortable way.
  4. Decovery® is a plant based and waterborne paint ingrediënt for paints. It is a solvent free and low odor product, and reduces health risks of the people involved in production and the users of the product.

Benefits of social impact measuring

Social impact measuring is useful to underpin company missions. Life cycle assessments can be instrumental to spot new innovation opportunities and business differentiators. They also help to train product developers and sourcing managers to choose the most sustainable alternatives, and marketeers to communicate the differentiators in a balanced way. More about business benefits here.

– based on the earlier published article by Karen Maas (Academic Director Impact Center Erasmus) and Jacobine Das Gupta (DSM Corporate Sustainability) in Dutch for NRC Live Impact Day

 



5 reasons to start measuring social impact

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Companies taking the lead 

In January politicians, leaders of multinationals, entrepreneurs and scientists gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos to discuss today’s societal challenges. It is encouraging to see that the private sector is taking a leading role in defining plans to mitigate climate change, ensure health and safety and move towards a circular economy. Companies employ the most employees in the world and have the largest investment and innovation capabilities. Nowhere else such significant impacts on society can be made as by companies if they run their business in a responsible way. Think about sustainable sourcing policies, careful choice of materials, eco-design, production methods, creation of jobs and good working conditions.

Why should you start measuring social impact?

All impacts organisations have on society can be summarized as ‘social impact’. These can be from economic, environmental and social perspectives. How to measure this impact? How to identify the best opportunities for a maximum positive social impact? Where do companies create most impact? How to shift to new more sustainable consumption patterns? How to define priorities, and how to track progress?  Measuring impact has surfaced in recent years as a new important perspective in doing business. There are five reasons why:

(1) Underpinning company mission: An increasing number of companies have defined company aspirations and targets that explicitly refer to the social impact they aim to achieve. Philips aims to improve the lives of 3 billion people with health care solutions. DSM wants 65% of its products to have a measurably better environmental or social impact (Eco+ or People+). Underpinning these missions are  essential to monitor and manage performance.

(2) Requests for transparency: External stakeholders set higher expectations on transparency than before. Reporting financial and non-financial results are becoming common practise. Companies are not only asked to be transparent about their profits and revenues, but also to inform the general public about the status of ‘externalities’ such as the safety, health and employee engagement of their staff as well as the green house gas emissions of their sites.

(3) Consumer expectations: A large majority of consumers expects that companies take responsibility for healthy, safe and decent working conditions under which products are being produced. Two thirds of all consumers sense responsibility to purchase products that support environmental or societal goals (Globescan). Half of all consumers state they are even prepared to pay more for products that have a clear environmental or social benefit (Nielsen). Producers of goods or services that want to tap into this pull will need to come up with evidence that shows the positive impact on society is not biased, but real.

(4) Changing investor preferences: The investor community increasingly steers on the social impacts of investments. Before, most investors applied an exclusion policy, avoiding certain sectors. Nowadays investors increasingly steer their portfolio based on performance on several Environmental Social and Governance factors (ESG). For companies this is a reason more to track and manage these factors more closely.

(5) Employee engagement: Last but not least, the ‘sense of purpose’ of a company has become the most important reason for Millenials to work for that company (Deloitte). And this not only accounts for the Generation Y. Many people like to work for a company that has a social mission in its headlines. It inspires people to get up in the morning.

Impact measurement important for companies to flourish

Measurement of social impact is still in its early stages. There are ongoing discussions how to do this, and how to monetise externalities. Integration of impact measurement results in business cases is expected, and even on company balance sheets in the future. There is much to be explored, and much to gain. The progress in the coming decade will be instrumental to have better insights in the real social impact of companies, and be able to steer, for a healthy planet, a prosperous society and companies that flourish.

– by Karen Maas (Academic Director Impact Center Erasmus) and Jacobine Das Gupta (DSM Corporate Sustainability) published previously in Dutch: NRC Live Impact Day