The second day of SB '14 San Diego kicked off with a morning full of inspirational plenary presentations examining how we can reimagine business to become a positive global force.
Gil Friend, Chief Sustainability Officer at City of Palo Alto, gave the opening remarks, reminding attendees of how the US transformed itself during the Second World War to respond to problems that would not wait. Friend suggested that the several social and environmental issues currently afflicting our planet represent a call to action to transform our economy just like our forebears did.
Rich Fernandez from the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute asked the audience to close their eyes and imagine their ideal world. “Live and work as if your vision is being accomplished with your every action,” he said.
For the first plenary, Andrew Winston, author of The Big Pivot, discussed some of the major issues that we will need to address moving into the future. Some of these include: demographic and social change, shift of economic power to the east, rapid urbanization, climate change and resource scarcity, and technological breakthroughs. If we don’t tackle these issues, nothing else matters. The rise of big data also is transforming the lives of everyone on the planet as it creates a truly connected and open world.
To create a sustainable future, Winston offers three primary pivots:
- Vision Pivot — Set science-based goals, fight short-termism, pursue heretical innovation
- Partner Pivot — Get customers to care, collaborate radically, become a lobbyist
- Valuation Pivot — Change incentives and engage
Sometimes it’s hard for us to “sell” sustainability because we don’t have all the hard numbers, Winston said. However, on a sinking ship would we wait to act until we “had all the numbers?” Companies such as Tesla and CVS are showing the bold sustainability actions can be taken even when it doesn’t immediately make business sense. For example, CVS cut out the sale of tobacco, which typically earned the company $2 billion a year.
We should stop selling products that don’t fit our mission, and sell more of the things that do. Most importantly, Winston said, we must seek to act beyond our immediate businesses and change the overlying system. Sometimes this means even collaborating with competitors, as Coke and Pepsi have done in their efforts to remove harmful chemicals in refrigerants.
“In redesigning, you come to all kinds of new possibilities,” said d'Escury. “This is what sustainability is; it’s making a better life for all of us and innovating.”
“What if all the brands and all the businesses in the world had a net positive ambition?” Sally Uren, Chief Executive at Forum for the Future, asked the crowd.
Following Uren, the CEO of Avery Dennison, Dean Scarborough, took the stage to talk about his company’s struggle with making the business case to shareholders for sustainability. Avery Dennison operates in a B2B environment, which makes it difficult to sell sustainable products to customers, who often opt for the cheapest possible option.
Next, Andy Savitz, author of Talent, Transformation, and the Triple Bottom Line, reminded attendees of the critical role of HR in driving employee engagement in sustainability initiatives.
HR has its hands on so many levers that can change human behavior, and has emerged from its bunker to play a critical role, Savitz said. Taking care of your own employees is at the heart of sustainability.
“CSR without HR is simply PR,” said Savitz. “Purpose goes far beyond alignment of values — it’s also about creating opportunities to advance purpose at work.”
Public-private partnerships also are a driving force of sustainability in the business world, academia, and civil society.
See a wrap-up of day two's breakout sessions.