Here’s how sustainability can make you stand out from the crowd

Credit: Unsplash

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Shalini Unnikrishnan, Managing Director & Partner, Boston Consulting Group


  • The COVID-19 crisis has heightened awareness of the importance of addressing environmental challenges.
  • Companies are seeking to increase the environmental and social resilience of supply chains.
  • To make the case for investment, they need to understand how to use sustainability as a competitive advantage.

Whether making collective commitments on biodiversity or developing alternatives to the plastic bag, it’s encouraging to see that leading consumer goods companies are not holding back on their sustainability activities. However, an important question dominates the consumer goods and retail agenda – one that is critical to scaling up these activities: how can companies use sustainability as a source of competitive advantage?

Doing so is not easy. First, the complexity of the science, the environmental trade-offs, and the many sustainability standards out there mean that consumers are understandably confused.

Take a single-use plastic bottle. One company might claim to have made its bottles easier to recycle. Another might say it’s making its bottle from paper, while another might say it has moved from plastic to glass bottles. How can a consumer – with little time or appetite for scrutinizing detailed labeling – know which of these solutions is more sustainable?

It’s equally difficult for corporate leaders to know where to focus. In our analyses of which issues are material for consumer-facing companies – especially those in the food and beverage sectors but also those in home and personal care – we often find up to 25 topics of importance.

But how does an organization pursue 25 sustainability initiatives that meet its environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals while also presenting a coherent narrative and a sense of distinctiveness?

Adding to the challenge is the fact that discussions of COVID-19 and the human and economic devastation it has created are dominating the public debate. Yet the pandemic is closely tied to environmental and social challenges, such as access to health, which calls for an integrated approach.

The good news is that the case for pursuing a sustainability agenda is clear. In an article earlier this year, we argued that abandoning their efforts today could leave companies facing grave risks down the line and make restarting sustainability efforts impractical or unaffordable.

Since then, we’ve been encouraged to see that leading consumer companies have not abandoned or watered down their sustainability ambitions. These companies understand that the COVID-19 crisis has actually heightened awareness of the importance of addressing environmental challenges.

In fact, in a recent BCG survey of more than 3,000 people in eight countries, 70% of respondents said they were more aware than before the crisis that human activity threatens the environment, which in turn poses a threat to life on earth. More than two-thirds of respondents said they thought economic recovery plans should make environmental issues a priority.

Public awareness of linkages between humans and the environment has risen.
Image: Boston Consulting Group

Companies are responding. BCG research has found that, as a result of the pandemic, many are focusing on supply chains, not only making efforts to enhance agility and efficiency but also seeking to increase the environmental and social resilience of supply chains, often through unprecedented types of collaborations with suppliers, customers, and even competitors.

Meanwhile, some companies are starting to develop their first sustainability strategies. These organizations understand that if they don’t act now, a huge gap will open up between them and the leading players.

We hope that more will join them. But to enable companies to make the case for the investments, they need to understand how to use sustainability to stand out from the crowd. We believe a number of critical steps can make this possible:

1. Set authentic ambitions: Avoid simply making more pledges and rushing to announce new goals. Create a cohesive and bold north star, and a few big societal impact goals that are aligned to your business strategy, and that you can work towards for several years.

2. Innovate for scale: Resist the temptation to keep launching new pilot ideas. Execution at scale is the only real means of creating differentiation. Innovation should focus on enabling a few promising efforts become large and distinctive.

3. Be transparent in your execution: Invest in digital and operations transformation efforts to integrate sustainability throughout the enterprise so that the starting point, cost, progress, and impact of your actions are transparent, both internally and externally.

4. Engage your consumers: Break out of traditional siloed sustainability communications channels (such as reports, speeches, and news releases) and focus on integrating sustainability into brands and consumer engagement (for example, by reimagining the pack).

5. Re-examine your coalitions: Collective action will be necessary to advance sustainability, but joining coalitions does not translate into impact. Look closely at the coalitions you are in, or are considering joining, and assess whether they are set up to translate ambition to operational outcomes. coronavirus, health, COVID19, pandemic

What is the World Economic Forum doing to manage emerging risks from COVID-19?

The first global pandemic in more than 100 years, COVID-19 has spread throughout the world at an unprecedented speed. At the time of writing, 4.5 million cases have been confirmed and more than 300,000 people have died due to the virus.

As countries seek to recover, some of the more long-term economic, business, environmental, societal and technological challenges and opportunities are just beginning to become visible.

To help all stakeholders – communities, governments, businesses and individuals understand the emerging risks and follow-on effects generated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Marsh and McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, has launched its COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications – a companion for decision-makers, building on the Forum’s annual Global Risks Report.

Companies are invited to join the Forum’s work to help manage the identified emerging risks of COVID-19 across industries to shape a better future. Read the full COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications report here, and our impact story with further information.

COVID-19 has dramatically altered the landscape for consumer products and retail companies – including the expectations of consumers. As companies “build back” they have the opportunity to “build back better” by putting sustainability at the centre of everything they do.

Of course, developing systems and technologies that enable transparency, traceability, and impact measurement, and taking steps to shore up supply chain resilience demand new resources and investments.

However, those investments will deliver attractive returns in the form of social and environmental benefits, operational efficiencies, improved business resilience, and – importantly – the opportunity to create a powerful differentiator that, at a time of extreme economic uncertainty, will underpin the organization’s success.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Scientists in Iceland are turning carbon dioxide into rock

MWC 2016 LIVE: Orange targets VoLTE and Voice over Wi-Fi; strikes Google partnership

What young people can teach world leaders about mental health in 2020

How young entrepreneurs should be supported: what assistance should governments provide?

Investment Plan for Europe: European Investment Bank to provide BioNTech with up to €100 million in debt financing for COVID-19 vaccine development and manufacturing

It’s ‘time for concrete action’ says UN chief, welcoming inter-Korean agreement

China is building 8 new airports a year

Understanding our own garden that we call mind

Colombia: ‘Terrible trend’ of rights defenders killed, harassed; UN calls for ‘significant effort’ to tackle impunity

Trade defence report: restoring the level playing field for European producers

Zero carbon by 2050 is possible. Here is what we need to do

Environmental labelling, information and management schemes are central to the circular economy

Technology can help solve the climate crisis – but it will need our help

COVID-19: MEPs call for measures to close the digital gap in education

Number of MEPs to be reduced after EU elections in 2019

Mental Health Policy, a significant driver for growth

Will Europe be a different place this Monday?

Professional practices of primary health care for Brazilian health and gender inequality

Is there a drug for every disease?

Gig workers among the hardest hit by coronavirus pandemic

This robot boat delivered a box of oysters in a breakthrough for unmanned shipping

High-technology manufacturing saves the EU industry

Uganda’s Ebola preparedness ‘will go a long way’ says WHO chief

Biggest London City Banks ready to move core European operations to Frankfurt or Dublin?

Top UN Syria envoy hails ‘impressive’ start to historic talks in Geneva

UN resolution paves way for mass use of driverless cars

Refugee resettlement: ‘Tremendous gap’ persists between needs, and spaces on offer

DR Congo: Restore internet services as ‘a matter of urgency’, urges UN expert

World Bank downgrades global growth forecasts, poorest countries hardest hit

All for equality – 2020 is a pivotal year for Gender Equality

What does a good digital ID look like?

The world is facing a $15 trillion infrastructure gap by 2040. Here’s how to bridge it

More than 80% of adolescents worldwide aren’t getting enough exercise

‘Massive and protracted’ humanitarian crisis in DR Congo can be ‘beaten back’ if donors step up

Access still an obstacle to reaching stricken communities on Indonesian island: UN agencies

5 ways you can protect insects if you live in a city

Questions directors need to ask in the age of stakeholder capitalism

Give (mental) health to the young health workforce

The EU slowly exits from “Excessive Deficit Procedure” and hopefully from ‘Excessive Austerity Procedure’ too

Pakistan-India crossing is a ‘Corridor of Hope’, UN chief says, wraps up visit with call for interfaith dialogue

Restore hope that peace will come to the Middle East, UN negotiator urges Security Council

Commission concludes that an Excessive Deficit Procedure is no longer warranted for Italy at this stage

DR Congo: days ahead ‘critical’ to ‘historic election process’ Security Council hears

Why city residents should have a say in what their cities look like

Mental disorders: a raging fire tearing apart the Moroccan society

G7: A serious setback hardly avoided in iconic Biarritz

‘Tenacious’ Kyrgyz lawyer and statelessness champion, wins prestigious UNHCR prize

3 reasons why AI won’t replace human translators… yet

Syria: Why did the US-Russia brokered ceasefire collapse? What does the duo care for?

A Europe that Protects: Commission calls for more efforts to ensure adoption of security proposals

Libya: Heavy shelling and civilian deaths ‘blatant violation’ of international law – UN envoy

A day in the life of a refugee: the wait

What keeps me up at night? Two strategists reply

These photos show some of the world’s smallest things massively magnified

Ethical education as an obligatory course in medical curriculum

Five-year low inflation for Eurozone and now Mario has to finally wake up the Germans

World Television Day celebrates an integral part of modern life

In Pakistan, Guterres urges world to step up climate action, praises support to Afghan refugees

Environmentalists have removed nearly 40 tonnes of trash from the Pacific

Convincing the Germans to pay also for the unification of Eurozone

More Stings?

Advertising

Comments

  1. Checkout some custom printed products with your personalised messages. you can checkout https://www.proimprint.com/

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s