Not just a responsibility but an opportunity
"Sustainability is not just a responsibility but an opportunity to do business," says Jochen Zeitz, Director of Kering; Chairman of the board's sustainable development committee.
Zeitz was only 30 years old when he took over the reins of CEO at the then ailing sporting goods supplier, Puma, and was instrumental in its phenomenal turnaround. Part of his strategy was to entrench sustainability into the company's ethos.
At the time he asked whether: "Puma wanted to remain a traditional sports company or did we want to become more?"
So he developed an ethical framework built on the four pillars of Fair, Honest, Positive and Creative, which were applied throughout the business.
"Growing ethically is good but show me the numbers," he says. This Zeitz achieved by putting a value on environmental impacts of every aspect of Puma's supply chain.
"We created an environmental profit and loss (EP&L) which clearly told us what our impact was," he explains.
"Surprisingly, the EP&L showed that our buildings and stores were only responsible for 6% of environmental impact, while 60% came from sourcing raw material such as cotton and leather," Zeitz says.
He applied those same principles to other companies he became involved with, including Kering (which represents high-end brands such as Gucci and Stella McCartney) and Harley Davidson.
"Luxury is about quality and great quality must be sustainable. With Harley Davidson, we looked at the values of the brand. Harley is about freedom and the right to express yourself. It falls in with the pillars, so it can be sustainable. We don't talk about sustainability but rather live it," he says.
Quoting the old proverb, "May you live in interesting times", Jonathan Hanks, Founder and Director of Incite Sustainability says that it is periods of huge volatility that prove to be a defining moment in business approach.
He explains that the 2008 financial meltdown, and following an actuarial rather than innovative approach to sustainability, was indicative of such a systemic failure.
"If you are going in a direction which is problematic, you will fail, and for many companies sustainability means going south slowly instead of changing direction. Change is difficult, but we have to challenge the system and change the order of things to change direction," he explains.
Hanks uses four elements defined by US Senator Robert Kennedy in his speech at UCT in 1966 to illustrate the roadblocks to change.
"We need to stand up to the conventional way of thinking, and not be afraid to speak some uncomfortable truths," he says.
According to Kevin James, Head of Strategy: GCX Africa, sustainability is the most difficult concept to grasp and many companies are overwhelmed by it, as altruism is not a traditional driver in business - money is.
"If you look at the progress since the Industrial Revolution, the biggest and most exciting innovation wave is sustainability, he explains.
But there comes a point where companies need to start taking action to be sustainable. This isn't just changing to more efficient light bulbs or painting a classroom to feel good and meet objectives, it needs to be total integration. He cites introducing sub-brands like Woolworths did with its Green Business Journey as one such example of successful integration.
James views sustainable transformation as:
For more information, go to www.greenbuildingconvention.org.za.