Novo Nordisk is the first global company to have completed a Future-Fit self-assessment and to have the results independently assured. In advance of Sustainable Brands’ New Metrics ’18 event next week in Philadelphia, I sat down with Cora Olsen, Global Lead on Integrated Reporting at Novo Nordisk, to discuss what the company learned from this process.
Cora, how did you hear about Future-Fit and what was it about the Future-Fit Business Benchmark that first caught your attention?
Cora Olsen: I actually heard about Future-Fit in its draft form, at the New Metrics event in 2013, where Bob Willard was talking about a “Gold Standard Benchmark for Truly Sustainable Business.” I had been looking for innovative sustainability metrics for some time but had only come across approaches which measured backward-looking performance data. When I heard about Future-Fit, I was completely mesmerised — here was a framework that clearly identified the destination we needed to get to, instead of just comparing current best practice. It just made so much sense. I then connected with your co-founder, Geoff Kendall, and Novo Nordisk’s journey began from there.
Why did Novo Nordisk decide to assess its progress toward future-fitness?
CO: At Novo Nordisk, we’ve always wondered what “good” looks like. We can see that the world isn’t getting any better; but at the same time, despite attempting to improve, until we found the Benchmark we had no way of knowing our real impact or what we really needed to achieve. Measuring against the Key Fitness Indicators gave Novo Nordisk the ability to define real progress, identifying strengths and weaknesses, and that was key. For instance, before the assessment we didn’t know that 7 percent of our water use is occurring in water-stressed areas; now we know that we can work with local experts to reduce our footprint. The Benchmark therefore facilitates enlightened decision-making and that really resonates with people internally.
Ultimately, the beauty of the Future-Fit approach is that it helps companies transform qualitative information into quantitative indicators so that you really know where to focus and how to improve performance. The Benchmark is highly intuitive from a corporate perspective.
How did you go about undertaking your Future-Fit assessment?
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CO: We’ve been building up to this for a while now, working continuously to introduce the Benchmark to our colleagues, which has led to a lot of energising conversations over endless cups of coffee. Internally, people have long been frustrated by the endless questionnaires and indicators that comprise traditional sustainability reporting. All of these metrics claim to be ESG-oriented, but none have been that useful in helping us understand how we can progress towards true sustainability. Measurement of the Key Fitness Indicators was only possible because of these conversations and leveraging the content-relevant experts within Novo Nordisk.
Further to demonstrating the value of the Benchmark to our colleagues, being the first global company to do the calculations also made the process hugely exciting for everyone involved. There were so many conversations around interpretation and nuance, which we worked through internally, alongside our collaborating consultant, DNV GL.
The final step in the process was for Grant Thornton to assure our assessment results. Due diligence is very important to Novo Nordisk and we wanted to make sure no one could question our results, particularly in instances where we were scoring 100 percent on a Key Fitness Indicator. Now, having done the actual calculations, we are planning to meet with the various content-specific teams to agree next steps. Achieving sustained performance will only work if the business is involved — it’s not about my team owning and directing the agenda. Success creates kings and queens, and I want to have as many as possible.
Were you surprised by any results of the assessment?
CO: We had a good spread between “red” and “green,” so needing improvement and performing well. On the environmental side, we know we take more natural resources than we give back — the negative impacts that were flagged by the assessment weren’t surprising, but they have helped us to start to shape a new strategy. On the social side, we had a lot more “green,” particularly in terms of employees, but the goals that include operations and local communities are trickier, so we’re using the Benchmark to steer new targets and goals.
What advice would you give to companies who are only just beginning to look at their future-fitness?
CO: If you’re only just beginning the Future-Fit journey, I would suggest that you sit down and take a hard look at the 23 Key Fitness Indicators. Perhaps pick five indicators which cover a mix of issues you know your company struggles with and areas where you know you’re performing well. When trying to convince others within the company about the Future-Fit approach, start with the people you know well. You need to leverage your knowledge of the company in a way that will maximize your success. But the best way to convince people is with the fact that you can’t reduce impact without calculation, and the Benchmark provides a solution to just that.