We have distilled the key leanings of the webinar for you below and here is a full recording.
Sue is the former EVP for Sustainable Business Development and Communications at Unilever and a sustainable strategy advisor, working across different industries from mining to financial services and food manufacturing. As such she has a wealth of knowledge and experience and frankly, we could have spent all day with her! A great, practical insight into what it really takes to start, build and maintain sustainable business models in your organisation.
There is loads of theory out there, and lots of people ‘talk a good game’, but how do you move beyond the rhetoric and stick to it when the going gets a little tough? Here are some of Sue’s tips.
Start with ‘why?’ Honestly.
It’s the very first thing to properly interrogate. How does this actually fit with the underlying motivation and philosophy of the company? At Unilever they went back to Lord Leverhulme’s purpose – To make cleanliness commonplace – and reinvented this aspiration for a modern world and global remit creating the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP).
It is based on the belief that the job of a company is to serve society. But there’s the reality of creating shareholder return and the main question to ask your board is ‘do you think you can do both at the same time?’ If you really don’t believe that at board level then be honest with yourself.
It must be lead from the top
A three-point check-list on leadership:
- Must be CEO lead or it won’t get done
Unilever were lucky as they had Paul Polman, a pioneer on this agenda. But what if you don’t have someone like him, are you wasting your time. Perhaps your CEO can be persuaded to kick it off but will only truly lead it when the money comes in…?
- Get to collective ownership asap.
Don’t give one person too much responsibility. Give the accountability away quickly, across the board, so they are all making decisions through the sustainability lens.
- Educate the Board
This is new to them as well so don’t expect them to lead it with expertise from the go. Find ways to increase their knowledge and skill.
Sue made an interesting point about NGO’s here. As you align and partner with them to achieve your goals they are brilliant at keeping the leadership honest. They are very quick to spot any gap between what you say and what you are prepared to do.
Big stretch goals, but adjust as you learn
Don’t build goals as an iterative, bottom up approach, as they will be encumbered by your day to day mindset. They must be set top down. How else do you get goals like Unilever’s:
- Improve the lives of one billion people;
- Halve our environmental impact;
- Improve the lives of five million people in our supply chain.
There is a genuine feeling here of ‘go big or go home’. We are running out of time to simply dip our toes in the water, it needs courageous, feet first leadership.
Make it real for your people (and take away the binary choice)
“That’s all well and good but my boss is on my back asking me to hit this months numbers.”
It didn’t happen in Unilever until the brands properly understood how it could help stretch and achieve a business plan. So, to reconcile the trade-offs with commercial planning:
- Establish a hypothesis for each brand group, not just of how can sustainability drive this business but that it is the best way;
- Go away and work out ways to prove it (before targeting on it);
- Ensure you tackle the ‘consumer-ask’. What, if anything, are you expecting by way of consumer habit. Are they prepared to change if necessary?
They also created ‘distributed leadership’ by crowd sourcing ideas on the USLP, asking over 2,000 people across the value chain how sustainability might be implemented across the portfolio. This created extraordinary momentum.
One tip here is also ‘go where the energy is’. There are people in your organisation who are ready and chomping at the bit to get involved and make it part of their work.
Give yourself time
Sue’s talk was peppered with key messages about time and patience.
- “Ten year goals…”
- “This didn’t’ happen overnight…”
- “Allow a time lag here…”
- “This took them more than five years to get to this point.”
So this begs the questions ‘how patient are you?” and ‘are your leaders personally in this for the long haul?’ It is another of the tensions we talk about at Wavelength: the ability to operate in two seemingly conflicting mindsets at the same time, short-term results, long term responsibility.
Live it personally
“You are not impotent in this! All of your actions either contribute to the problem or contribute to the solution.”
Sue was very challenging, but once again, very practical:
- Soak yourself in the issue. It is the most important learning you will do. Read the books, follow the right people on twitter, form your own opinions, take daily action;
- Be highly vocal as a voter;
- Grip it and drive it in your organisations. Be intelligent, thoughtful but action focused.
Fish out the ‘turd in the pool’
There will always be cynics. They are like turds in pools, there only has to be one and no-one wants to go swimming. You have to use the power of your CEO and exec to fish these people out and release their talents to the competition!
And one final check-list from Sue. We asked her what she looks for when she goes into the companies for the first time as a potential advisor.
It is essentially the human qualities that give away whether they are serious or not…
- Are they listening?
- Do they have courage?
- Do they have tenacity and stick-to-it-ness?
- Will they take advice?
And if they keep her at arms length from the CEO then she’s out of there!
*see end of article for the list of people Sue recommends you follow to stay abreast of climate change concerns.*
Wavelength Connect 2020
Learning from a highly experiential curriculum, leaders are given access to some of the world’s most successful and admired companies and accomplished practitioners. Airbnb, Alibaba, LEGO, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Liverpool Football Club, The Eden Project, and Four Seasons are amongst those featured on recent Connect programmes.