How to start a conversation on sustainability within your company without sounding like Greta Thunberg.
I would like to see that sustainable thinking is the norm of the business world in 2021.
But still today, it's not. It's pursued as an exclusive opportunity for businesses doing well and a luxury choice for consumers. So, if you care that your company starts taking steps in the right direction, you have to be ready to sell that idea internally.
As much as many of us dread the concept of selling, we also realize that selling an idea is something we do daily. Just as you would sell the next movie choice to your partner for your next home-movie night (because, yeah, cinemas are still closed), you have to be able to sell big ideas within your company.
And when that idea is sustainability, you better come well prepared with a strong “why” and ideas on how this will help the company reach its goals.
And for the record, I have nothing against Greta Thunberg. She's been an inspiration for me to set out on the sustainability journey, but the fact remains that her statements wouldn't push a company to change its business approach. So, which arguments could land and resonate the best?
According to a Deloitte study, two in three millennials will quit their job if they don’t find fulfilment or if they sense that their current job has no ambition beyond profit.
And it's not just millennials that expect a lot from their employers. A recent employee survey by Peakon reports that concern about environmental issues increased globally by 52% in 2019.
If that's not getting your Human Resources department's attention, try weaving your company's sustainability efforts and values throughout your employer branding materials. You will make their job easier.
Investors’ goal is to get the highest possible return from their investment portfolio with minimal risk. And in the next 10 years, climate change is among the biggest threats to humanity (according to UN Global Risks Report 2021).
So, Black Rock VC and other major players in the ecosystem are starting to reevaluate their investment strategy and criteria. They increasingly want to see founders build solutions for the future - solutions addressing real problems and ambition beyond profit.
People buy experiences, not products
And your job is to make them feel good about choosing yours. Consumers are increasingly paying attention to the backstory of the various companies they're supporting. For example, take the fashion industry - a significant abuser of child labor (almost one in ten of all children worldwide are in child labor according to the UN). Campaigns like “Who made your clothes?” make people start looking into it and demand the big fast fashion companies to change. And part of that has been why Copenhagen Fashion Summit - the meeting place for the fashion industry's positive change-makers - was established.
And if you think that just because you're in the B2B segment, this doesn't apply to you - think again. Doing business with a company whose reputation is damaged due to unethical or unsustainable business practices will no longer fly. That should help you formalize the arguments for bringing up sustainability in your company.
From what I gather, we need all hands on deck for the journey through the 2020s.
Here's a few practical tips for starting the conversation:
- Share with your team what your competitors are doing. What are they bragging about? What are they emphasizing? That might not be a leading sustainability strategy yet, but it possibly will start the conversation.
- Host a brainstorming session on sustainability topics with a few colleagues that might benefit from implementing sustainability in the company. Create space where you can discuss what opportunities and challenges venturing in that direction might create.
- Send data insights of how the industry/investment community is changing to the main decision-maker - the CEO - directly. I would even consider sending a video recording from an industry-leading event like TechChill (a good option would be this one from the 2020 event featuring Lauri Kokkila from Inventure).
As much as I care about sustainability, I strongly believe that you have to start with a business case. At least that has been my experience. We operate in a system that aims and tracks growth and profit. So if you want to make a change, speak the language decision-makers understand.