Making your business more sustainable
This is a...
Several great lessons have emerged during the Coronavirus crisis, one of which has been to underline our world’s essential interconnectedness.
This is a lesson the pioneers of the circular economy have been teaching for years. Perhaps then, in the post-Corona world, we’ll finally see the end of the siloed thinking that has accompanied linear economic thinking for so long? Perhaps too, businesses will grasp the true value of having sustainability at their core to ensure we all emerge into a more robust and values-driven business world?
As a business that started up just before the financial collapse of 2008, we’ve now survived two major economic crises. Sustainability is, without doubt, one of the key aspects of our business that has ensured our resilience. We’ve always believed businesses need to look after people, profit and planet to survive and thrive. The largest company in our creative group, exhibitions and events specialist Ignition, has worked tirelessly since inception, for example, to change attitudes in an industry with an appalling ‘build and burn’ track record. The company, which last month won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development, also holds ISO 14001, 20121 and 9001 and was the first in its industry to achieve ISO 20121, following our Founder’s involvement in the London 2012 Olympics.
But it’s not just about the environment. Running a sustainable business is also about taking a long-term view and looking after staff wellbeing to ensure long-term staff retention, as well as ensuring continuous service improvement for clients, so we’re able to pass on cost savings and stay profitable. Having strong values as a business ensures strong client buy-in, with the resulting longer-term contracts helping us maintain a steady ship in choppier waters.
Here’s our 8-step ‘P-R-O-G-R-E-S-S Guide’ to incorporating sustainable practices into your business:
By purpose, we mean setting clear goals for what you want to achieve. All businesses differ in products and services, as well size and resources, so it’s important to be specific about what you want to achieve. There’s a raft of potential things to consider for improving environmental sustainability, from reducing and offsetting carbon emissions and energy usage, eliminating single-use plastics, recycling, installing water fountains, increasing product lifetimes and product re-usage, achieving ISO 14001 and becoming a sustainability advocate. A maturity matrix is particularly useful for measuring your achievements.
Running a sustainable business means taking the long-term health of your company seriously, but also making realistic decisions about dedicating time and funds. To be truly sustainable, your strategy needs to be part of your company DNA, so start a sustainability-focused team to share responsibility and tasks, bringing people in from different areas of the business. Data clearly shows employees care about purpose at work and prefer to work for and stay with a company that actively addresses its environmental and social impact.
It’s so much more effective to achieve small steps than to have grand plans failing through over-ambition. Keep the ball rolling internally by being ordinary with some of your ambitions and identify the quick wins. These might include recycling, energy consumption, food composting or water wastage. Ensure you know the full journey of all the waste you produce. Next, move onto the materials you use, along with packaging and distribution, before addressing grander ambitions.
Once the small acts are in hand, increase your ambitions. How can you develop your business model to be more sustainable and long-lasting? Can sustainability help you increase the duration of client contracts? What is your client retention strategy and your staff retention/wellbeing policy? Long-term thinking is key to creating sustainable businesses. What can you do to increase product lifetime? Can you re-engineer your product offer or create something new, in line with sustainability, which is both good for the environment and profit? What can you rent, rather than sell or buy? Is there any wealth to be found in the waste you produce? Try running a cost reduction programme right across the business.
5. Redress the supply chain
Education on sustainability will be vital, internally and externally, so it’s important to understand that increased knowledge is the route to unlocking change. The responsibility lies with everyone across your supply chain, so ask your suppliers about their sustainable activities. Are they accredited and aligned to your strategy? If you hold the purse strings, demand more of them, but be sure to open up collaboratively first. Run supplier workshops, share goals and help your suppliers become more sustainable, even help them prepare for accreditation – it helps your own credentials and kick-starts greener chains of activity.
6. Exceed - keep improving
A real commitment to sustainability shouldn’t only be long-term, but continuous. Ensure you stay on target by creating regular review dates. If you’re ahead of schedule, add new targets. Put yourselves under pressure and set at least one stretch target. Appoint a sustainability champion to ensure everyone in your organisation is kept up to date with news and ideas, adding them to your agenda where appropriate.
Measure success. It’s an important motivator for your team and wider network. Measure what you’re doing against the goals that you set at the start and analyse the impact of measures on your business, including financial benefits. Engage with your staff and make the most of employee opinion surveys, feedback and motivation levels. Celebrate and reward people and make sure your clients know what you’re doing. If there are savings to be passed on, do that.
8. Share & shout
Pro-environmental practices create positive brand associations amongst consumers/customers, so make sure you share and shout to the wider world, publicising your successes internally and externally. The benefits of being a sustainable business can be profound and long-term, affecting not only your reputation, but business growth, team motivation and talent retention. Knock-on benefits for clients include new knowledge levels, so that you can anticipate regulatory trends and help position your clients favourably.
Sam Rowe is CEO of Istoria Group, a creative businesses group based in Bristol and the US and working internationally. The largest company in the group, Ignition, was awarded The Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development in April 2020.
www.istoriagroup.com / www.ignition.com
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.