Win-win: How corporates can innovate to change the world, while boosting the bottom line
With so much uncertainty in the world, the temptation for some global businesses is to chase short-term profitability, with sustainability taking a back seat. But Tanya Popeau, former advisor to the United Nations and director of Synthesis, believes that improving sustainability is exactly the way to drive growth right now. With deep expertise in helping corporates and non-profits use innovation to solve complex global sustainability challenges, Tanya spoke to us about how organisations can rapidly spot and unlock their own opportunities.
Are organisations being distracted from their long-term sustainability efforts by short-term profitability?
“The two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive: that’s a mistake. With the old CSR model, it didn’t really matter if a company was harming society or the environment, as long as it was donating some profits to charity. Most people didn’t really pay attention to building sustainability into business operations. But now companies are proving that you can embed sustainability into your business model and drive profit and positive change, at the same time.”
“A great example is Paul Polman at Unilever. He was revolutionary when, as far back as 2009, he introduced the Sustainable Living Plan because he could see it would provide the company with a commercial advantage. Over 10 years, he consistently generated significant growth across brands and products by looking for areas to drive positive societal and environmental change.”
“I’ve worked with Unilever and they understand sustainability provides them with an opportunity to innovate and present something new to the market. Look at their Dove campaigns which inspire social change for girls and women. Everybody understands these campaigns are designed to boost their brand value but they are also raising pertinent issues, so it’s a win-win for the brand and the consumer.”
“Another example is Coca-Cola. The company’s supply chains have a massive reach, so it teamed up with UNICEF to get medicine to remote areas. Anyone with a global supply chain could help connect hospitals, communities, schools… The changes you make don’t have to cost incredible amounts but can have huge brand value and drive significant impact.”
“The changes you make don’t have to cost
incredible amounts but can have huge brand
value and drive significant impact.”
It can feel impossible to innovate and change in a large global organisation, especially quickly. What advice do you have to help spot those opportunities?
“Choose a framework, like the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Pinpoint a goal that ties in with your business model. Think about the resources you have, from people to technology, and identify people in your team who will drive these new areas from inception through to implementation. Think about who has the knowledge, skills and passion to pursue key sustainability topics from climate change to homelessness and social inclusivity. Dedicate time and space to hold team sessions that redesign and develop new products, services, systems and strategies to drive growth and revenue, as well as global impact.
What is the biggest missed opportunity for today’s corporates?
“Your next multimillion dollar solutions
may well be among your staff.”
“Your next multimillion dollar solutions may well be among your staff. The best answers often lie within your own teams. They’re your biggest stakeholders and often your key consumers, and in every organisation, from SMEs to big corporates, there are individuals who are genuinely committed to change. That’s even more true of younger generations who are so passionate about purpose. I see it first-hand when teaching in universities. They don’t even want to stop to take a refreshment break.”
“We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. I believe big businesses have the capacity to make real global impact and this is what excites me most right now!”