Posted by Tilly White | 14-Dec-2023 13:24:50

In the face of climate change and resource constraints, businesses must adopt innovative thinking and operational approaches. The urgency of ESG action necessitates a strategic shift. Meaningful progress in ESG requires extensive connections and communications across a broader ecosystem, involving partners, suppliers and consumers. Despite widespread calls for action, many business leaders struggle to expand their influence from strategy to execution, possibly due to the perceived enormity of the task. 

To explore bridging the gap between sustainability aspirations and concrete results, Chief Disruptor, in partnership with Cognizant and AWS, hosted a workshop to address such challenges, offering concrete action plans through hands-on activities and real-life insights from sports and business. Focusing on refining ESG strategy, the session aimed to empower attendees to bring theory into practice through establishing new leadership and operational structures that amplify returns.

The workshop began with an introduction from Phillip Smith, Global Head Sustainable Business Transformation Practice at Cognizant. Despite awareness of ESG challenges, the "intention-action gap" remains a significant hurdle to organisations. In fact, survey results consistently reveal that people will express willingness to pay more for sustainability, but then often fall short in their actions. So why is change so slow? According to CDP more than 4,000 (out of 18,600) companies last year disclosed they had a climate transition plan, but only 81 (0.4%) demonstrated a credible climate transition plan. The question then arises: How do we scale sustainability initiatives once a plan is in place? Phillip kick-started the session which provided tangible answers to this question, to springboard new leadership and operational structures, and in turn elevating ESG for greater returns. 

This brought us to the workshop’s guest speaker: Fiona Morgan, Chief Purpose Officer, SailGP. As the first ever CPO in global sport, Fiona is responsible for activating the global league’s purpose focusing on environmental and social sustainability and governance, educating, and guiding all departments to act upon the vision and values. Fiona reflected on how she is leading ESG initiatives at SailGP, providing real-life insights and tips of how to bring ESG theory into practice. SailGP is a groundbreaking sailing competition often likened to Formula 1 on water. The organisation has made significant strides by leading a world-first initiative, Their Impact League. By igniting the competitive nature of the athletes, they are the only sport to have two podiums: one for sport and the other for the planet. Furthermore, as the first sport to report to the CDP, they are leading the way in recognising the importance of addressing climate risks in the sports industry. In addition, by engaging at the C-level as a Chief Purpose Officer, Fiona is able to ensure that sustainability is integrated into the key decision-making processes rather than being siloed into a single department. Finally the organisation is leading the way for diversity in sport, with a 50-50 gender balance in its management team alongside groundbreaking achievements with their female athletes.

In the subsequent discussion group participants explored various avenues, bringing to life a number of tangible and practical applications in which organisations can take to turn their sustainability endeavours into results:

The Role of Internal Stakeholders and Employees

The importance of aligning employees with the purpose and values of the organisation was discussed. Internal stakeholders, who are also consumers, play a dual role in influencing the company's sustainability practices and making conscious consumer choices. C-suite leadership was recognised as pivotal, not only in setting the agenda but also as brand ambassadors who can instil pride in the organisation's social and environmental initiatives.

Unlocking Value Through Data Strategy

The discussion delved into the significance of data in shaping sustainability strategies.

The organisations who are building their data strategy alongside their environmental and commercial strategy are now the ones in a position for future fit-decision making. The challenge of obtaining meaningful and tangible data was acknowledged, drawing parallels to the "red tractor" on food labels – emphasising the need for credible credentials for sustainability data.

Effective Storytelling

The influence of the athlete's voice can be almost tribal and can effectively drive change. As Nelson Mandella said "Sport has the power to change the world." But how do organisations engage those who aren't naturally competitive? The answer lies in optimism and storytelling, steering away from focusing on stopping unsustainable practices and instead encouraging positive actions. It's about starting something new and inspiring change.

Decision Making 

Consumer-driven change emerged as the final takeaway, with strategies discussed to incentivise sustainable choices and build trust through transparency. The best way to help consumers make the right decisions is through education, but also by removing the decision making process. Making the sustainable option the obvious choice takes the cognitive stress away from the consumer. 

In conclusion, the journey bringing ESG theory into practice towards a more sustainable future involves a collective effort, encompassing innovative approaches, effective storytelling, and data-driven decision-making. The challenge is immense, but the potential for positive impact is equally vast.

We held this event in partnership with Cognizant and AWS. 

Topics: Activities & Updates, Thought Leadership

Written by Tilly White

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