Seizing a “watershed moment” for corporate sustainability efforts

Gita: I think this is a very important observation, and Stephanie emphasizes it. It should be done from the ground up. Her company and others in the c-suite partner with leaders and organizations to create innovation that not only drives costs, but also profitability. Trying to build a purposeful, sustainable business is truly innovative, and will grow your business in the long run. At the same time, you consider how you interact with your suppliers, how you treat your customers, how you treat your employees and how you reduce the environmental impact of your operations. All of these things are part of your decision. Absolutely.

Laurel: Stephanie, while we’re talking about innovation, what does purposeful sustainability look like in the next three to five years? And then how can a focus on multidimensional value creation benefit the greater community, and investors and enterprises?

Stephanie: Laurel, business leaders are aware of the problem. In a recent study by Accenture, we found that more than 70% of executives we surveyed said becoming a truly sustainable and responsible business was a top priority for their organization over the next three years. 70% of executives said, “This is important, and it is important for us in the short term, and we will take action.” I believe, because if you think back to the last year, two years ago, there has been tremendous progress from business leaders. I expect this speed, acceleration.

The success of this type of change depends on the concrete commitment given to the stakeholders. Crucially, our analysis shows that organizations with a strong sustainability DNA deliver higher financial value and greater environmental and community impact. I believe this is a watershed moment in history. This is a watershed moment in history. A focus on sustainable development will be key to the competitiveness and continued success of businesses going forward. A business creates new value in the future by putting sustainability in what it does and how it does it.

Laurel: Gita, Stephanie says watershed time. You call it the need for revolutionary or evolutionary measures. How do you see purposeful sustainability in the next three to five years?

Gita: We have a confluence of conditions and circumstances. It’s a cliché to call it unusual, but the pandemic has truly exposed our vulnerability. On top of that, we have ongoing climate change impacts in this country and around the world. It is estimated that half a billion people could be forced into migration due to climate change. That disproportionately affects the poor and communities of color.

There is more emphasis than ever on thinking about how businesses work in society and making sure we are aligned on all these goals, thinking that they can make a really positive contribution. An amendment has been made, and I will give an example. We talk about the labor puzzle, in the United States, where are the workers? We have persistent labor shortages at all levels. Where are the workers, where did they go? In the beginning, there was the epidemic, and the stimulus, etc., but it’s not getting any easier. Companies are saying, “Well, this can be with us for a long time, and we have to make sure that we participate in the skills in retention. Maybe even, what is it? On-ramping.” Stephanie, you know this word better than I do.

For example, people who are ready to leave the workforce, but will keep them in a certain capacity, they will bring based on this common knowledge and experience. It’s not just a response to climate change, it’s not just environmental issues, it’s a web of network effects, it’s all related. And to respond to that in an effective, coordinated manner.

I want to use an analogy, which is that no company can do it alone. When the airlines started flying, if you wanted to fly from Washington, DC to Dayton, Ohio on Delta, Delta didn’t build its own airport. Delta flies to a joint airport used by the United Nations and Americans and other people. Likewise, to address these societal issues that impact companies, we must truly form alliances. These alliances should be alliances of companies, with platforms like Stephanie, with governmental organizations, with non-governmental organizations, with advocacy groups. We all have to work together on this.

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