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Event Debrief: Does Sustainability Have A Future?

Event Debrief: Does Sustainability Have A Future?

For those who weren’t able to attend today’s #sustainablebiz seminar – here is a brief recap on some of the debate and discussion from this morning.

A panel of experts at the forefront of sustainability in business joined Instinctif Partners for today’s event: “Does Sustainability have a future?” Over 30 delegates attended to debate the changing nature of sustainability, through questions and use of an interactive ‘tweet wall’ with the hashtag #sustainablebiz.

Chaired by Claudine Blamey, Chair of the Institute for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, the event challenged our four panelists to discuss their interpretation of sustainability, ultimately answering whether or not sustainability, as we know it, has a future.

Claudine kicked things off by highlighting that sustainability is becoming more and more integrated – it is no longer a bolt-on for businesses – before inviting Eileen Donnelly, Director of Sustainability and Communications at PZ Cussons to put her viewpoint across.

“Sustainability absolutely has a future,” began Eileen, “because of the ever changing nature of the beast.”

She went on to explain that you only need to have a look at the rapid growth in the use of new technologies to draw parallels between the modern, interconnected world and the increasing focus on sustainability throughout businesses.

Next to take the floor was Caroline McCarthy-Stout, ‎Head of Reporting, Awards and Communications Strategy: Community & Sustainable Business, at Lloyds Banking Group, who echoed Eileen’s thoughts, but took a broader look at sustainability from a bank’s point of view.

“99% of British businesses are SMEs – the very lifeblood of our economy – so we need to do our utmost to keep them running well,” said Caroline, commenting on how Lloyds’ sustainability strategy runs alongside its Responsible Banking programme.

She also commented that work is constantly being done to better improve processes and align the strategy with changing market conditions – reiterating that sustainability is an ever changing area.

Dr. Alan Knight, General Manager for Corporate Responsibility at ArcelorMittal, gave an impassioned viewpoint of how parallels can be drawn between naturally occurring sustainability and corporate sustainability, yet the two can conflict.

“The future of sustainability is an interesting conundrum, because sustainability in business is inconvenient,” he said.

“It is inconvenient because it asks what businesses will be doing in 10, 50, even 100 years’ time.”

Dr Knight concluded by declaring that sustainability must have a future by default, as being unsustainable – by definition – “does not have a future”.

The final panellist to put their view across was Instinctif Partners’ very own Kate Clough, who agreed with much of what had already been said, but offered an alternative conclusion.

“With the changing digital landscape – 24 hour news feeds and social media – it has never been easier for the consumer to affect the corporate agenda,” Kate explained.

“I am amazed that businesses still use models that separate business strategy, brand strategy and sustainability strategy. So no, I don’t believe sustainability, as a separate business function, has a future – the future needs sustainable strategies, not sustainability strategies.”

Following the panel discussion, the floor was opened up to questions from the audience, who asked about the role of marketing, metrics and, perhaps most poignantly, how to get sustainability high on the agenda for a CEO.

Dr Knight responded, saying: “Unfortunately, you often find it takes a crisis for a CEO to recognise that something drastic needs to be done.”

This resonated with the rest of the panel, who agreed that an effective way of elevating the issue of sustainability is by appealing to senior management as “humans first and businessmen second.”

The event was the second in a series exploring the essential themes, issues and priorities of communications professionals today, and was held at Instinctif Partners’ Gresham Street offices.


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