On 11 October the 2022 Shared Value Summit Asia Pacific came to Melbourne.
It was every bit as energising as previous years with the added benefit of seeing old friends, some from afar, who converged on ACMI in Federation Square from cities across the country.
Lots of ideas and insights to be had, but here are a few takeaways and some worthy maxims.
“Profit is the fuel for achieving purpose.”
Prof. George Serafeim (Harvard Business School, Impact-Weighted Accounts Project) flipped the prevailing narrative with this quote.
The goal for every organisation is achieving a social and/or environmental purpose. We need to make a profit to get there, but that’s actually not what drives employees or even customers. Ultimately we are all trying to improve the lives of the people that matter most to us and the services/products/experiences we create.
The more profit, the more we can scale growth and impact.
Other points from Serafeim were:
- Strong governance, purpose and culture are the required platform for scale and innovation.
- Purpose and culture – the norms, beliefs and behaviours – are the anchors for rapid growth, steeling people for challenge and change.
- There are no shortcuts. Don’t announce an initiative or bold intentions before you do your homework. Build the strategy, structure, team. Get the evidence. Then launch.
“Sustainability is everyone’s job.”
Anyone who has been on the sustainability and impact journey as long as our team has, is witnessing a major shift in how companies treat sustainability and, although to a lesser extent, social impact as strategy. It’s not a gentle swing – more a Formula 1 gear change.
Janette O’Neill (PwC) and Holly Kramer (Woolworths) are living this shift at executive and board levels. And shared value summit delegates were (mostly) also experiencing it in their organisations.
They recounted how, previously, the sustainability officer could be reporting into corporate affairs or operations in a predominantly risk reporting function. Now, the sustainability team is more likely to have a seat at the ELT or SLT in a critical strategic position and, laterally, senior colleagues all need to demonstrate how sustainability is a consideration in their strategy and planning. Not only that, there is a prerequisite for board members to have knowledge in this area or it is too overwhelming and only viewed through the risk lens.
Sustainability is everyone’s job. And it feels like it is driving the big shifts that the industrial and technological revolutions did. In that sense, we’ve done this before.
Companies therefore need to be clearer about the balance of sustainability effort across compliance, reporting, and innovation. In doing so, allowing space for innovation means allowing space for creating shared value – for the company, customers and society.
O’Neill emphasised that having a single framework reflecting the business’ context is important, aligned with global standard reporting frameworks, driving materiality assessment, with underpinning strategy to support risk mitigation and innovation.
That’s definitely a task our strategy and insights team is incredibly being asked to facilitate: to connect purpose with strategy and impact with a framework that reflects the reality of the business now, but also the opportunity presented by the future.
Tip from the panel: Coursera has a credible and free course on Impact Measurement & Management for the SDGs worth doing.
“Choose brave over perfect.”
First proffered by Sandra Martínez (CEO, Nestle Oceania and Decade of Shared Value Award recipient), the quote ‘choose brave over perfect’ resonated with me after so many years of supporting champions in large organisations and fielding questions from their risk averse CEOs.
We’ve seen it time and again. If you wait for perfect, someone brave is going to overtake you. Look around. It’s happening right now.
Brave takes many forms but, in all cases, it means being willing to fail. To de-risk failure you need to be clear about the vision you have, the journey you are on, and the unknowns you plan to tackle. Take measured steps, not giant leaps. And remember the media moves on quickly.
“How long do you want to be in business?”
It’s a question every company leader is conscious of but doesn’t always have an answer for.
Yes, many start-ups are built to sell. But larger organisations that intend to be relevant need to stick around. In fact, in areas such as the circular economy and technology, governments and societies are counting on it for no less than planetary survival.
It wouldn’t be a shared value summit without Mark Kramer (Harvard Business School)! In conversation with Werther Esposito (Managing Director, Enel Green Power Australia), we heard the key principles Enel has are: time, value and innovation. Get it right, and the company will be here, solving problems profitably, into the future.
“Have one eye on the microscope and one eye on the telescope”, was another worthy maxim.
Sustainability and innovation teams at Enel have been merged under the moniker open ‘innovability’ (get ready Oxford Dictionary scribes). Driving innovation (and choice of geolocated market for investment) is a procurement philosophy that Enel can be: ‘greener, cheaper and flexible’ for customers. And not subsidised – because government subsidies don’t persist, and therefore represent an investment risk.
Esposito’s challenge to us was, like all the good ones in the shared value space, simple and personal:
“Everyone should look at their energy bill and ask what the source of the power is. Then explain that to your kids.”
28 July 2022 was Earth Overshoot Day.
Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.
I didn’t know that.
Joan Ko (Arup), thank you for the (welcome!) shame.
Also, for sharing a wonderfully precise and robust presentation with disarming humour
You made me look up ‘Carbon Law’. And I now think ‘reduce, restore, remove’ every time I walk into a building and ponder its materiality (in the industrial design sense, sustainability people!).
“Talk to me in language I understand.”
As a company that has spent almost 15 years focusing on messaging and motivating behaviour through the fatigue of the climate wars, we get the power of language.
But it was still energising to hear Helen Steel (Mutual Trust) explain that investment analysts and investors don’t speak our language. And that emphasises risk, even when we passionately talk opportunity in meetings with billionaires, hedge fund managers or boards.
Everyone working in shared value, social impact, sustainability needs to relook at their PowerPoints, brochureware and customer experience to tell the story differently.
At EJ, we are here to help.
“Talk to a stranger about something meaningful.”
It sounded like a sticker on a rusty 80’s station wagon until Nick Epley (Professor of Behaviour Science, University of Chicago Booth) told us he has years of evidence to back up the science.
We select ourselves out of conversations, and minimise our contribution, for fear of judgement – based on our identity, at work or in social settings; or based on what we know – and we are less for it.
You need to be open to learning something new about yourself and the person you reach out to.
Tony Layh (Corrections Victoria) asked us, “Don’t fill the room with the same old people. Ask tough questions, be uncomfortable, create friction”.
And Luke Anderson, a former prisoner building his start up (Fair Threads), made it clear:
“Speak to people with lived experience, find out what’s required, look for low hanging fruit and ways to make change”.
Another intriguing point was that ‘meaningful dependent variables’ are essential for partnerships – set the scene by focusing on what matters, and the space you are willing to create to get a result.
And that’s a wrap. ‘Til shared value summit 2023.