Are business leaders seriously jeopardising the legacy of their business for short-term gain? How can business leaders achieve their ESG commitments cost-effectively? What pathways and dependencies enable businesses to grow and not simply defend in ESG? And given the current macroeconomic environment, where are the successes for us to learn from?
To explore how organisations can unlock ESG strategies and turn a crisis into an opportunity, Chief Disruptor, in partnership with Cognizant and Google Cloud, hosted the third in-person roundtable in a series of C-level community-led activities aiming to unpack the sustainability paradigm shift facing technology and business leaders today.
We began the evening with introductions from Phil Matthews, Vice President and Sector Head of Retail at Cognizant who set the scene in the context of the previous sessions, which covered collaboration and harmonising profit and purpose. To build on this, the aim of this session was to nail down, under the backdrop of socioeconomic uncertainty, the role of the technology leader in actually realising change and the opportunities for sustainable growth.
This brought us to the evening's guest speaker: Dr Xuxin Mao, Principal Economist at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research who leads on macro-econometric modelling and forecasting, and other economic and financial research areas. Xuxin reflected on the last six months of high, stubborn inflation. In particular, Xuxin highlighted inflation nuances including the lagged inflationary pressure of energy prices on food prices resulting in this week's lower-than-expected consumer price index drop. Significantly, models suggest inflation will only drop by the Spring of 2024.
However, there is room for cautious optimism. Recent models show the UK will avoid recession and be in better shape than other economies, such as Germany. In turn, Xuxin suggests society, organisations and the government have the opportunity to reverse the trend of economic growth of the last 16 years by identifying a ‘booming factor’ that can bring about continuous growth and associated societal benefits.
So, can sustainability be that ‘booming factor’? As we began our roundtable discussion, the conversation brought to life a number of tangible approaches organisations can take to make this a reality:
1. Think Differently
Sustainability demands new energy, diversity of thought, angles and challenging conversations. Our attendees suggested drawing inspiration and parallels from the implementation and uptake of successful D&I strategies to the sustainability space. On one hand, you need top-down approaches with strategies communicated and driven by engaging leaders. On the other hand, the bottom-up, grassroots movement must be empowered and encouraged to drive change, “be machiavellian”, “be more pirate” and disruptive. Furthermore, by combining both approaches, initiatives should be unaffected by resistance or pushback.
2. Collaborate and Build Ecosystems
Building on our first roundtable, Collaborating on the Race to Net Zero, to turn a system-wide crisis into a system-wide opportunity we need to build ecosystems as a vehicle of change. We heard many examples of collaboration from data centres being used to heat swimming pools to farms which feed cattle and, in turn, power manufacturing plants and sharing open data to drive sustainability insights. The message is clear: leaders must act together.
3. Is sustainability just good business?
For organisations operating in resource-stressed geographies, sustainability is not a choice. Here, a conversation about delivering ROI from sustainability simply cannot account for the externalities associated with maximising the bottom-line or top-line. At the same time, we are building a richer view of ROI from sustainability beyond monetary value. As such, technology and business leaders are better equipped to fight for and promote sustainability initiatives at the board level.
4. We all have a responsibility
Responsibility or ownership around sustainability is blurry. Intergovernmental and governmental organisations have failed in their own commitments and continue to lack innovation or guts to make organisations pay attention. But organisations can act now; whether it is driving behavioural change in customers, reacting to the demands of customers, absorbing higher costs or using their leverage to hold governments accountable. Organisations cannot simply say “That’s impossible”, they must place ESG at the core of their business to future-proof their legacy and strengthen their growth.
We held this event in partnership with Cognizant and Google Cloud.