With a goal of contributing to change and understanding how COVID-19 will influence sustainable development; at Quiero, we have undertaken an ambitious project: #aBetterWay — a search for answers from our global community of leaders based on reflection, learning and action.
In just a few weeks, a previously unknown virus made us realise that we are more vulnerable, smaller and more fragile than we thought. It has made us aware of the fact that there is a close link between people's health and the health of the environment. And it has finally brought us face to face with the current way of doing things — from the macro (our model of economic growth, of gauging welfare levels) to the micro (our relationships with key stakeholders — including employees; or the immediate positive impact that organisations, can generate in our surrounding environment). A key message from this crisis is that "how" we do things is just as, if not more, important than "what" we are doing. And this "how" is undoubtedly what we need to revisit.
How can sustainability help me build resilience? How can I be a better leader through sustainability in these times? How can I justify investment in sustainability in the current scenario? How can I strike a better balance between global and local in my supply chain? Is it necessary to have a business/brand purpose, or is it just “doing" enough? How can I make a difference without coming across as opportunistic? If I have a purpose, how should I reassess it to make it better? How to accelerate disruptive innovation? How can I create a strong culture of adaptation that will help me through times of crisis? How can I reconnect with my employees after what they have experienced and in new work environments?
These are just some of the questions we have to ask ourselves in order to navigate the uncharted waters that COVID-19 has left us for the next few years. A new era: the era of transformation.
Because that's exactly what we need: a profound transformation of sustainability in several dimensions. With a goal of contributing to change and to understanding and reflecting on how this pandemic will influence sustainable development, at Quiero — a sustainability platform with more than 10 years' experience — we have undertaken an ambitious project: #aBetterWay.
#aBetterWay is, above all, our search for answers to all these questions from a global collective platform based on reflection, learning and action — starting with roughly 100 conversations with experts from the Americas, Asia and Europe; backed by Sustainable Brands™ (SB) and in coordination with its network — because we can't stop doing, wondering and searching how to do better.
We draw on the dimensions outlined in SB’s inspiring Brand Transformation Roadmap as the basis for reflecting on how we can do better. The tool clearly sets the route for navigation and orientation thanks to the "whats" — from the "whats" of Business as Usual (level 1) through to the "whats" behind a ‘Sustainable Brand’ (level 5) — in each of the five dimensions: Governance & Transparency, Supply Chain and Operations, Purpose, Brand Influence, and Products and Services.
All of our conversations with experts around the world analyse and teach us the "how-tos" in these dimensions, in order to subsequently develop specific work guides for each of the dimensions, as outputs of #abetterway. Hear our recent conversation with Forum for the Future CEO Dr. Sally Uren (click here to view the whole conversation:
There is no doubt that this process of global conversations has allowed us to identify how some trends that were in the offing prior to this crisis are now deepening and accelerating. The COVID-19 crisis has also shown how renowned sustainability-driven businesses have seen their share prices improve, in clear response to those who always point out that sustainability "is very expensive."
Going beyond this initial learning and delving deeper into the dimensions of our Roadmap — in terms of Purpose and Brand Influence, we clearly see the need to focus on "activating" the purpose. Generous, efficient companies have stood out during these months of pandemic, but they have not been a revelation in terms of how to activate a purpose. The problem is that any purpose must always start from the inside out, from the employee — the main audience of a purpose — and then extend out to other stakeholders, including the consumer. The purpose, as the spine of the company rather than the basis for communication, must build on the exponential route to the SDGs that was emerging just before the crisis hit. A purpose activated from inside requires leaders capable of seeing the risk on the horizon. We can only discern risks if we give value to things that others do not see. Let's think about what we didn't see coming with COVID-19.
If we address the organisation's influence, it becomes increasingly clear that leading the company means leading the industry. To achieve this, we will need to promote real, disruptive collaborations that go beyond just words. Real, disruptive collaborations involve investing time in finding and meeting the best partners; applying the best processes, methodologies and tools; ensuring a tangible, valuable output, and giving everything you have: your essence, your people, your resources. We are talking about reimagining sectors and industries, not simply adjusting or fine-tuning individual companies. We are referring to generating Moonshots as radical solutions to today's big problems. This will not be possible without those transformational leaders who are needed right now.
In the Governance and Transparency dimension, it is certainly worth reflecting on how transparency and corporate culture have been altered and tested during the pandemic. COVID-19 can be an accelerator of the business culture we are so anxious to find: a strong culture that guarantees flexibility and resilience in times of crisis. We must ask ourselves what we want to keep from our recent behaviours in order to build towards the future.
Regarding Supply Chain and Operations, we are seeing a plethora of dramatic changes these days, but little of the resilience guaranteed by globalisation and production decentralisation. The need for businesses to support the most vulnerable communities in their supply chain, establishing truly strong partnerships, is also worthy of note. Another question that is now being asked: Do we have to look again at the local level? Decentralise? The concept of "ecological literacy" — as the basis for real, systemic change and collaboration from the local level in order to improve people's lives and biodiversity — emerged during some of our conversations with experts.
Finally, in terms of Product and Service Innovation, it is clear that we are lagging behind our purposes. Why is it so difficult? It is worth reflecting on why we are not able to take advantage of the opportunities that this much-needed moment of change offers to generate multiple business, environmental and social benefits at the same time. Awakening entrepreneurial spirit and forgetting the obsession with regulation in some markets; disregarding what we have learned in the context of traditional educational constraints; datacrisation (data-based decision making); pursuing a continuous-improvement model at every step of innovation; scaling up the creation of spin-offs ... These concepts, among many others, are some of the hows we are beginning to outline as a way to accelerate sustainable innovation.
These are just a few of the initial reflections of these conversations — signs of how to build more resilient companies and organisations. More innovative — because, if the recent situation has shown us anything, it is that we have the ability to innovate quickly and successfully. Closer and more sensitive to what is happening in the environment (social and environmental). Companies with a face and a voice. At the service "of."