What Every Business Leader Needs to Know about Sustainability
By Eamonn Percy
Our World is at an Inflection Point
The world is changing, and changing fast. Periodically our economy experiences a shift, a change or an inflection point, which marks the end of an era and the new beginning one.
For instance, the Great Depression in the 1920’s was an economic event but marked a social shift (start of social security in the US), the 1980’s marked the end of the industrial age and the start of the information age, and today we are marking a shift in how we use and sustain the limited resources of our planet.
Recently I had the chance to see sustainability up front and close, by being part of the Globe 2016 conference in Vancouver. The Percy Group jointly held a booth with the Globe Group, and met with business people from around the world. The Globe Series is the largest and longest running conference in North America on the business of sustainability and innovation for the planet.
Sustainability, cleantech, clean energy and the business of the environment are topics I know well, having been in senior executive roles with two of the leading clean technology companies in BC: Ballard Power Systems and Powertech Labs. In addition, over the years I have been involved in numerous initiatives and boards related to sustainability and have always been a strong advocate for businesses to become better stewards of scarce resources
Top Three Things Business Leaders Need to Know
If you are a board director, CEO, executive or business owner, here is what you need to know about sustainability:
Sustainability is here to stay. There is a finite and diminishing amount of natural resources on our planet, while demand is insatiable. Therefore, the pressures to become more responsible stewards of our limited resources will only grow. In addition, demographic changes, driven largely by millennials, will apply significant market pressures for new and better ways to share products, services and resources.
Globalization and rising global living standards will also put a strain on finite resources. Finally, sustainability technology and innovation will disrupt existing businesses, and the resultant rising economic pressure will force change upon the entrenched and status quo players
Sustainability is good for business. Like the early days of the internet, which spread uncertainty through the economy for many businesses, there is confusion and uncertainty among some business leaders, as the trend of sustainability unfolds. I look at it quite simply. Any good business leader should be focused on creatively creating maximum value for customers with minimal resources.
The greater the responsiveness to customer demand, the better resources conversion, and ultimately the greater the contribution to sustaining those resources.
Sustainability is important to your customers. Customers have a funny way of being right and expressing it with their wallets. According to a recent survey by Cone Communications, “A record-high 71 percent of Americans consider the environment when they shop, up from 66 percent in 2008”. A recent (2015) Nielsen survey found almost 75% of Millennials (age 18 – 35) are willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings, up from approximately 50% in 2014. If you customers want it, make it a high priority in your strategy and business.
What Can Business Leaders Do?
Sustainability is an opportunity for business, not an obstacle. Forward-thinking business leaders can take many steps to become more competitive, as sustainability becomes increasingly important. Becoming aware of issues relating to sustainability, and then developing and implementing good strategy is a start. Focusing on the effective use of resources in both product design and business operations is very important.
Listening clearly to the voice of the customer and incorporating the feedback into new products and services will ensure your business evolves to meet the changing needs of the market.
However, I believe the most important factor for business leaders is to embrace a willingness to change, to adapt, to let go of the tyranny of the status quo, while openly and honestly looking for ways to contribute and add value, so we leave the world not a little better, but a lot better than the way we found it.
Eamonn Percy is Founder and President, Percy Group Capital + Business Advisors