Sustainability is more than a trend or buzzword, it is a reality hitting us in the face. We are surrounded by the wake-up calls of climate change and it is not only achieving our neighbor’s yard, but it is also already wetting our lawn. We must find a way to transition to a new way of thinking and acting so our activities in the present do not negatively compromise the activities of future generations.
An effective way I have discovered recently is for companies to show that they really do good while having a lasting purpose, one that sits shoulder to shoulder to the economic returns of doing business. That is to say that when our businesses set the commitment to deliver double and triple bottom line returns, we must be prepared to overcome levels during the journey, making sure we are always measuring and adapting.
We are slammed with the realization that is not about telling the world something for the need of being part of a movement. It is about looking deep inside the core of your business, questioning the famous WHY we do what we do, and think if the economic returns justify the means to achieve them. Saying that, our spectrum goes beyond the business level, we think of the whole big picture here, the holistic system that includes all stakeholders.
Saying that we must consider the entire economics. We hand-pick partners that are aligned with our purpose to guarantee we can shift our economic activities to a “safe spot where everyone can thrive without overshooting our pressure on Earth’s life-supporting systems, on which we fundamentally depend” says Kate Raworth. Kate is an economist that decided to question what is in the center of our economy. Together with a team of economists, she reveals the meaning of economic growth and finds out what kind of prosperity is being taken into account in this term. “The Doughnut Economic” is an insightful first step to a new paradigm.
The steps behind the awakening of a new mindset
Professionals in the field agreed that when a real change of mindset happens, it triggers a cultural awakening and leads to a profound transition of business guidelines and strategies. According to Luise Magalhães, a consultant in socio-environmental responsibility and corporate sustainability for projects such as Sitawi, Route Institute, and NEC, “a company’s performance that is tied to environmental, social, and governance impacts has greater power and opportunity not only to impact the economy but mainly to generate transformative processes in sectors that for many years have left negative footprints”.
However, not every company starts its journey by changing its mindset. Magalhães believes that the awakening of a company for the ESG criteria can arise through 3 aspects:
- The purpose of leadership for a less unequal and vulnerable world where its business model is directly linked to the strategy of specific causes;
- The leadership responding to the consumer demands, requiring business models that provide greater socio-environmental returns for society, or to act in favor of humanitarian causes that generate effective impacts on the sustainable development of this same society;
- The leadership can aim for business longevity with sustainable premises and that seek to be better for the ecosystem as a whole;
The previous aspects are all valid, and reveal how sustainability can be introduced into a company by different drivers. The three aspects proposed by Luise relate very much to the 5 levels (or stages) of the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production Indicator Framework.
*Source: Lowell Center for Sustainable Production indicator framework
Level 1: this indicator measures the extent to which a facility or company complies with regulations or conformance to some industry/association standards. It can also be described as DEFENSIVE, and companies at this stage play blind until the water is up to their knees;
Level 2: measures of facility inputs, outputs, and performance, such as emissions, by-products, waste, training, and donations. It is almost like a DUTY. Companies do the minimum to comply with the regulations;
Level 3: measures potential effects of a company/facility on the environmental, worker, and public health, community development, and economic performance. Also known as MANAGERIAL, which means sustainability is one corner of the business, to help improve the company’s corporate image (e.g., hybrid and electric vehicles as a tiny part of the operations of a combustion-engine business);
Level 4: measures company/facility production impacts looking at the supply chain as well as product distribution, use, and ultimate disposal (e.g., percent of products designed for disassembly, reuse, or recycling). It can also be considered STRATEGIC;
Level 5: shows how an individual company’s production process fits into the larger picture of a sustainable society. It measures the effects of production on long-term quality of life and human development within the ecological carrying capacity (e.g., percent of water from local sources used at average local recharge rate). We can also define it as LEADERSHIP since the companies in this level become a reference and start to push the entire sector. They become a purpose-driven ecosystem.
A purpose-driven business begins with a purpose-driven citizen
I like to say that sustainable businesses are made of conscious people, of true citizens, like you and I, who seek to solve real problems with smart and responsible solutions. Being a conscientious citizen is probably the first step to promoting consistent change, and to leveraging a company to level 5. It seems I’m not alone. Otto Scharmer describes this awakening as “cultivating the leader’s own self” as the starting point for the external aspiration to move forward with a company’s transformation.
Becoming a more aware and active individual in my community helped me recognize the impact of my professional activities and made me question how I was contributing to the creation and perpetuation of sustainable goods or services. When I paused to look at the big picture, I understood that our role as citizen-consumers is the main driver of this change and that we are the core of all decision-making.
Before playing any other role in a private or public sector, we are individual consumers which makes us responsible for 2 fundamental stages of the consumption chain: usage and discard. In other words, as consumers we decide what products we consume; how much do we need or want; in what format and size; and after the use, how we dispose of the waste we generate. We decide which are the products, brands, and companies that will thrive according to our purchase decision.
Citizens playing marketers
Be the professional that your inner-citizen would be proud of dealing with. We, marketers, shape attitude and behavior through our offers, which should make us think about our influence and thus encourage innovation in the whole supply chain with more efficient operations, guaranteeing to contribute to a more resilient environment
We are moving toward a market with more social maturity, and consumers are more responsible citizens, better informed, and with broad arguments at the time of purchase. The companies that understand the real meaning of sustainability must make it part of their corporate culture, and not just an advertisement for “false ethical behavior”.
These same companies will be concerned with developing better solutions and improving current processes, rather than just creating sustainable marketing departments that have the sole purpose of generating demand and obtaining competitive professional advantages. This is about changing the way that a company functions, and reconfiguring its purpose, and C-executives and founders should be aligned with it.
Magalhães states that “a more conscious and sustainable marketing is based on premises of engagement, inspiration, and the sharing of commitments, practices, actions, and performance generated from the material issues and impacts generated in the pillars of sustainability”.
Keep in mind that there is no sustainable marketing without an authentic sustainable business behind to support it. And there is no true sustainable business without individuals exercising their citizenship. Competition is fierce, and if a brand is not concerned with responsible behavior or attitudes, they will be replaced by other brands that will be ready to welcome us – you, and I, citizen-consumers.
Written by Fernanda Accorsi