Visionary, Action-Orientated or Blockbuster: What’s your approach to sustainability?

With large businesses having to capture and disclose their environmental, social and governance data for the first time, what’s your organisation’s approach to sustainability? Tanya Popeau, former advisor to the United Nations and director of Synthesis, believes there are three approaches.


I regularly meet with innovative leaders in large corporates who understand that the next big opportunities will come from designing new processes, products and systems which solve the world’s greatest challenges.  

From Lego to Diageo, these companies know change is inevitable and have dedicated innovation teams who are constantly developing new ideas. 

Visionary companies innovate by:

  • Developing new initiatives with the dual purpose of driving growth and positive social and environmental impact. Consider HSBC’s safe houses for domestic violence victims which provide an opportunity for those experiencing hardship to gain emotional support and economic control of their finances. Such a scheme is driving significant social change and attracting new customers at the same time.
  • Taking a broad focus of the entire value chain and regularly developing innovative sustainable systems. For example, waste materials are valuable raw materials which can be sold to other companies for profit. From coffee beans to clothing and construction materials, companies are actively seeking out partnerships to off load and sell their waste, creating a profitable circular model. 

All companies can introduce innovation into their sustainability approach and it doesn’t have to be expensive. 


This group is well informed, keeping abreast of policy and trends. Focusing on incremental shifts, businesses in this group constantly review products, services and systems to spot opportunities to embed sustainability, boost brand value and revenue, and drive positive impact. 

In this group, I continuously see a range of new rental, recycling and subscription models emerging. These models can be resource intensive in the beginning, but renting products increases its life cycle and boosts revenue. The Library of Things is a great example. Since consumers are feeling the pinch from the cost of living crisis, these models are becoming increasingly popular to a wider range of consumers, not just the sustainably conscious.


This group was aptly named after the Blockbuster CEO who famously stated that customers will always want to rent videos from a shop and, therefore, there is no need for radical change. We all know how that one turned out. I have only found a minority of companies in this group: those who believe sustainability is a fad and this nightmare will blow over. This group may well present some colourful statistics in their end of year reports, but behind the scenes they continue to operate on a business-as-usual basis. 

Whichever group you find yourself in, this time next year your ESG data will be publicly disclosed. What will consumers, suppliers and clients say about your business and what do you want them to say? To stay ahead, identify the gaps in your sustainability plan and develop activities and initiatives to help you achieve your sustainability goals. With the introduction of international legislation, plus rising consumer pressure, the sustainability storm is here to stay.

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