Some tips and ideas from the two day Summit

Last week (18-19 May, 2015) saw the 14th annual Responsible Business Summit take place in London, UK. Approximately 300 sustainability professionals attended the event from some of the world’s leading corporations, NGOs and academic institutions. Over the two days CEOs and senior execs outlined visions, ideas and methods to help push the sustainability agenda forward.

Below are not the top takeaways nor are they the definitive insights from the summit. They’re more a collection of key points that I took away from the summit:

You can’t do it alone

Throughout the two days speakers consistently referred to partnerships and collaborations as means to helping them achieve sustainable wins. Collaborating with NGOs, academics and competitors is not new but it appeared at this year’s event collaboration was becoming a norm, not something that’s still to be addressed.

A great case study for a collaborative partnership at its best is the partnership between Glanbia Ingredients Ireland and Diageo. Jim Bergin, Glanbia Ingredients Ireland CEO, outlined the important stages and processes they went through in their partnership. Bergin stressed it was important that both parties had a common interpretation of each company’s USPs and also a clear understanding of the value of the relationship to each. The partnership has resulted in Glanbia Ingredients Ireland supplying a service and risk management solution to Diageo, not a product. And for this Diageo pay a service charge – helping ensure both parties’ strategies fully align.

Luis Neves, Chairman at GeSI, reinforced the need for businesses to look for assistance – especially when trying to create real change around Human Rights. Neves believes businesses need to change their approach. For example, to eradicate child labour from supply chains it needs the involvement of business, NGOs, governments and importantly consumers to create the definitive change. Without one or the other supply chains can shift to new locations, new businesses and continue as they were. To achieve this Neves stated that all parties need to put aside their egos, believe in what they’re doing and have trust in each other and the process.

Make inventions the new normal

This was the rather catchy sound bite from Alexandra Palt, CSO at L'Oréal. And by achieving this companies will have created sustainable innovation. This was part of the discussion with Interface around new business models and sustainable innovation.

Nigel Stansfield, VP and Chief Innovation Officer at Interface, interestingly stated that through their new circular business model they’ve now become the suppliers to their suppliers. This in essence outlines the concept and requirements of a circular system.

When referring to the Net-Works project Stansfield stressed that the project could exist without Interface’s support. This is an important point as companies need to ensure all projects and new models are scalable and self-sufficient.

Making circular economy a reality

Many firms are grappling with making a circular economy a reality for their business. Only 24% of the Summit attendees stated that they’ve started to apply the concept of circular economy.

Pertti Korhonen, CEO of Outotec, stressed that a circular economy is a must and it requires both legislation and awareness to make it a reality. There’s many difficulties and obstacles to overcome, one being getting internal buy-in.

Korhonen stressed the need for both a soft and hard sell. Firstly the soft sell – creating a circular economy is the right thing to do. The second part is proving the monetary value of the new model, potential savings and new business from it – this is the language that will convince management. To achieve this requires a knowledge of businesses that are experiencing wins due to this model and then translating the wins back to your business.

Effective brand strategies

Christine Diamente, Head of Corporate Sustainability and Brand at Alcatel-Lucent, stated that stakeholder dialogue is make or break for many companies. Diamente stressed the need for companies to build a pro-active, open dialogue with their stakeholders.

Communicating is the easy part; the issue comes when making the message credible and believable. The only way to be credible is to know why you exist and be honest about it. Too many companies worry about the what and how, but first they need to establish the why...

The above are just a few of my takeaways from the Responsible Business Summit 2015. Full video and audio recordings plus accompanying slides can be purchased, simply contact my colleague Krina Amin.

The new business models and innovation session has now been uploaded to the website, as part of our new digital / video subscription offering. The full video can be accessed here

circular economy  stakeholder engagement  collaboration  #rbs15 

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