How sustainable business practices create win-win situations for companies

Sustainability has gained prominence at the board level as a profitable way of doing business, enabling companies to gain market share and simultaneously work towards positive change for people and the planet.

A rising number of company leaders are building sustainable practices into their business processes. Committed leaders are partnering with institutions such as B Corp certification, which has a legal requirement for companies to consider all stakeholders and the environment in their actions. These types of strategic synergies contribute to a mindset shift when it comes to social and sustainability issues.

The focus on accelerating sustainability has garnered the spotlight in a pandemic-hit world in which supply chains and working practices have been heavily disrupted. Although many businesses ground to a halt, the silver lining that the global lockdowns had on the environment has made a stronger case for continued sustainability efforts.

In today’s world, a business’s attitude towards sustainability is a bridge to forging a path of trust with its stakeholders, employees, local community and consumers. But sustainability is also a commitment to building robust, future-proof business plans that not only survive but thrive, regardless of shocks. It’s 101 that any business with a real commitment to sustainability should embed it in its policies, processes and in its hiring of talent.

The bottom line is: how can companies find the right leaders to help define the path back to profitability and productivity, and generate a positive impact for society?


 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

As sustainability grows in priority for global businesses, hiring C-suite executives with an aligned passion for causes will make an easy fit for both parties. Because of this, QHSSE (Quality Health Safety Security and Environment) roles have become critical, increasing competition for leaders with the right technical and soft skills to fill the role.

  • A company’s sustainability goals must seep into every aspect of its business. Every job role, therefore, must have a call for sustainability in some form.
  • QHSSE roles are experiencing rapid growth in companies with sustainability commitments, increasing competition for the right profiles.
  • Values of sustainability are organically integrated in the mindsets of the next generation. The progressive- minded are likely to be an easier fit for roles that demand a sustainability lean-in.
  • Executive search experts will have to first themselves fully understand the sustainability vision of a company to then find the right profiles for success.
  • Minimum resource usage and maximum engagement with consumers should be a company’s sustainability baseline, and talent search must be aligned towards this goal.

 


HIRING FOR SUSTAINABILITY

A company’s first step towards reaching its sustainability goals will be to hire leadership with similar goals. “2020 has made QHSSE (Quality Health Safety Security and Environment) roles very critical. Large global firms (of more than 5,000 employees) in engineering, oil & gas, mining and automotive sectors are hiring for QHSSE roles at directorate level. ‘Soft’ industries like pharma, retail and FMCG are also now hiring for QHSSE roles,” says Matteo Guerra, Senior Partner Europe.

2020 has made QHSSE (Quality Health Safety Security and Environment) roles very critical. Large global firms (of more than 5,000 employees) in engineering, oil & gas, mining and automotive sectors are hiring for QHSSE roles at directorate level. ‘Soft’ industries like pharma, retail and FMCG are also now hiring for QHSSE roles.

-Matteo Guerra, Senior Partner Europe

Guerra suggests that smaller organisations that cannot afford to hire a QSSHE-dedicated role can apply for certifications like ISO 26000 – the international standard to help organisations assess and address social responsibilities relevant to their mission and vision. Non ‘B Corp-certified’ organisations can also involve their employees in CSR activities and the efforts can be communicated externally to elevate their Employee Value Proposition (EVP).

Executive search experts must advise companies to consider their approach to sustainability at the very start of the hiring process for new leaders. This early identification of sustainability values ensures that it gets good representation. “Headhunters play an important role in driving sustainability by advising clients on the role’s scope and influence, especially for positions like Head of Procurement, Plant Head or Factory Head,” says Jon Goldstein, Senior Partner Asia Pacific.

Geoffroy de Beaucorps, Finance Director Continental Europe and Africa, agrees. “We, as executive search experts, advise leadership teams to hire peers who think progressively to ensure that the organisation will lead the narrative in their industry or sector.”

A TURNING POINT

The world expects commitment from corporate leaders for sustainability and urges companies to be transparent about it. “Board-level executives are talking about sustainability, and companies are getting pressure from consumers into acting on the sustainability agenda (just like diversity) now more than ever,” explains Goldstein. “Executives themselves are driving this in some locations. In Asia, I have senior leaders reaching out to me for roles at Google, because Google’s aim is to have a zero-carbon footprint. Asian economies are in a growth stage where it is harder to drive sustainability, but the big players, the ultra-competitive companies, are driving innovation and are leading from the front on the sustainability agenda.”

Executives themselves are driving this in some locations. In Asia, I have senior leaders reaching out to me for roles at Google, because Google’s aim is to have a zero- carbon footprint. Asian economies are in a growth stage where it is harder to drive sustainability, but the big players, the ultra-competitive companies, are driving innovation and are leading from the front on the sustainability agenda.

-Jon Goldstein, Senior Partner Asia Pacific

De Beaucorps agrees. “Big organisations are setting the benchmark for smaller players. Cigarette companies, energy companies and many others are competing on who is generating more media attention around their green initiatives and renewable energy projects.” He goes on to explain that the next generation will be the driving force to prioritise sustainability. “The next generations are demanding that organisations demonstrate their sustainability efforts – especially if they are a market leader,” adding that the next generation “will not interact with businesses whose value systems don’t align with their own.”

With pressure from competitors and ever- evolving business challenges, companies cannot do without standards and a culture of being aligned to larger sustainability and environment goals. Alex Malouf, Corporate Communications Director at Schneider Electric, explains, “Commitment to sustainability is what stakeholders are demanding, even in the Middle East, a region not traditionally known for its focus on the environment.” Being sustainable makes sense in business terms, because reducing wastage means reducing costs in the long run.

“It is risky when companies don’t think long term and make reductions in investments (to make the business more sustainable) that will impact the bottom line in the long run. COVID-19 has made evident our impact on climate change,” adds Malouf.

Most companies are investing in sustainability because they no longer have a choice – they need to keep up. It’s an important factor of ‘value branding’, because how a company is perceived often drives business decisions.

-Geoffroy de Beaucorps, Finance Director Continental Europe and Africa

“Most companies are investing in sustainability because they no longer have a choice – they need to keep up. It’s an important factor of ‘value branding’, because how a company is perceived often drives business decisions,” explains de Beaucorps.

MAKE SUSTAINABILITY PART OF THE COMPANY STORY

A great way to ensure that sustainability is integral to a business is to infuse it into the company’s vision. Every action and every decision that the company takes should reflect the sustainability mindset. Dutch chocolate brand Tony’s Chocolonely is the perfect example of how this could be executed. Their brand vision is printed on every bar of chocolate that they sell: “Towards 100% slave-free chocolate.”

The brand’s passionate aim is to ensure that there is no labour exploitation at any stage of the supply chain. Tony’s Chocolonely’s success story has been possible because there is an uninterrupted and consistent line of thought and direction from the brand vision to the actual product, earning customer trust.

TIME FOR BUSINESSES TO DELIVER ON SUSTAINABILITY PROMISES

Most C-suite executives struggle to maintain this consistency as it involves a company- wide alignment, but it seems that alignment can come from two places: the top down, like in the case of Tony Chocolonely, or from the bottom up.

The UN Global Compact-Accenture Strategy 2019 CEO Study – The Decade to Deliver: A Call to Business Action found that while 92% of CEOs believe integration of sustainability will be important to the future success of their businesses, only 48% say they are currently implementing sustainability in their operations.

As de Beaucorps adds, “I very much believe in the concept of a disruptive element. Often, in a team setting, there is one person who is very vocal about the topic of sustainability and then the idea starts to spread. Before you know it, you have a whole organisation that starts to move in that direction. That’s building from the bottom up – a good way to get organisational change fully accepted.”

The challenge for businesses is to then deliver on this groundswell of interest in sustainability. To adopt specific measures that may, in fact, cause productivity and profitability gains in the long run.

LEANING INTO SUSTAINABILITY THROUGH RECRUITMENT

Senior leaders are either extremely passionate about sustainability, or it might not even be on their radar. “Executive search experts must think how they can harness the sustainability values in a leader’s current role. Companies need to invest in talent to increase their knowledge of sustainability. For example, a finance leader could lean into sustainability goals by learning how carbon credits work,” says Malouf.

The appeal of sustainability is as broad as the topic itself, meaning it could be one of the more ‘invisible’ elements that prompt a leader to change company. “Senior professionals applying for executive- level positions are attracted to ‘B Corporations’ because they want to progress their careers with organisations that are aligned with making a positive social and environmental impact,” says Guerra.

A strong leaning towards sustainability is one of the aspects that can earn a business respectability and trust in the long term. Concrete action in this space demonstrates a company’s commitment towards people and the environment. And that starts from hiring sustainability-minded talent. When the company’s policies and its employees are in alignment with sustainability goals, it not only helps grow the business but also makes for a satisfying partnership in which all parties feel motivated to work towards a common goal


 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

As sustainability grows in priority for global businesses, hiring C-suite executives with an aligned passion for causes will make an easy fit for both parties. Because of this, QHSSE (Quality Health Safety Security and Environment) roles have become critical, increasing competition for leaders with the right technical and soft skills to fill the role.

  • A company’s sustainability goals must seep into every aspect of its business. Every job role, therefore, must have a call for sustainability in some form.
  • QHSSE roles are experiencing rapid growth in companies with sustainability commitments, increasing competition for the right profiles.
  • Values of sustainability are organically integrated in the mindsets of the next generation. The progressive- minded are likely to be an easier fit for roles that demand a sustainability lean-in.
  • Executive search experts will have to first themselves fully understand the sustainability vision of a company to then find the right profiles for success.
  • Minimum resource usage and maximum engagement with consumers should be a company’s sustainability baseline, and talent search must be aligned towards this goal.

 


Contact the Consultants Quoted in this Article

Jon Goldstein

Jon Goldstein
Senior Partner
Singapore

matteo guerra

Matteo Guerra
Senior Partner
France

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