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Where Does Your Brand Fall on the Sustainability Maturity Scale?

“For many organizations, the largest challenge is to implement sustainable initiatives.”

So stated Daniela Pigosso, co-founder of management consultant firm Essensus, as we began one of the first round of workshops at SB’16 Copenhagen. For the next three hours we learned and discussed how to develop a structured approach to sustainability. It’s Monday morning, and the crowd is smiling. Everyone seemed ready for some serious learning.

The tools and models that Pigosso and her co-founders, Tim McAloone and Vinicius Rodrigues, introduced us to are not short on vigor. Essensus’ framework is a compilation of knowledge between all the team members - a PhD Student, A PhD, a senior researcher and a professor, all at Danish Technical University. The analysis framework they have developed is based on studies of more than 800 concepts, tools and approaches to sustainability, innovation and management.

Pigosso asked the audience: “What does a successful journey take?”

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She answers by stating that success comes to those who understand where they are now, and where they want to be. That means that as participants to this specific workshop, we are now going to get a glimpse into ourselves.

“A full maturity profile covers 77 relevant management practices,” Rodrigues said. “In today’s workshop, we’ll cover 14.”

Before sending us to our first 40-minute breakout session, Rodrigues briefly explained the tools for the day – the aforementioned radar chart, capability charting tool and a rainbow of marker pens.

The breakout sessions are calm and reflective. Some groups are talkative; others mostly work in solitude with the occasional interaction regarding ideas and asking for guidance. The Essensus team paces between the seven tables, answering questions and elaborating further. After the breakout, a few of the participants share their experience: One discovered blind spots in their company’s approaches; another realized that their previous assessments have probably been too simple to be functional. Some felt it was important to do more. "We are already carbon neutral - but setting targets to reduce our GHG emissions further, like our clients do, would enable us to relate even better to our clients and set a strong example,” Franka Bosman of South Pole Group concluded.

“You don’t need to know where you are, to know where you want to go. But you need to map that out so that you can find the right path to you goal,” continues Adrian Tan, a senior business developer for Essensus. Tan then took us on a deeper look at the full maturity test, which consisted of six steps - we have just completed a brief attempt at step 1.

“If you don’t know where you are, it’s difficult to have a discussion about it,” Tan argued. “The whole point of phase 1, which is step 1-3, is trying to figure out where there are discrepancies and how do we talk about it.”

“Would you ever avoid a structured approach to total quality control or production?” McAloone asked, rhetorically. “You don’t get anywhere by just assessing where you are today - you need to know where you want to go.” He went on to explain step two, which develops around vision.

During the second breakout, the teams continued to develop their perspective of self-existence and future ambitions. Again the mood is energetic, and after the session the participants share their new analysis in short succession. Beat Stettler of Nestlé found that the hard work lies in formulization and controlling (level 3-4) of sustainability initiatives: “There is a discrepancy between the long-term discussions and the short-term needs,” he said.

Picking up where he left off, McAloone said that now that we know where we are and where we want to go, the next step is to make a corresponding roadmap (that is task 3, the last task of phase 1): “The purpose of Phase 1 is to find out where to start, or continue, to improve,” he explained. “It is important to make sure three first steps are carried out professionally – that insure high-data quality, which forms the basis of reliable benchmarks.

“In Phase 2 we are trying to help companies identify the journey they need to take to reach their goals. We lay the groundwork and help clients find the appropriate partners,” he continued, “from consultancies and universities to governmental bodies and tool vendors.”

Pigosso, who has been studying and developing these theories for over 10 years, wrapped up the session by outlining 5 aspects they’ve identified that must come into place for sustainability maturity to manifest itself in a company:

  1. Going beyond pilot projects - Integrate sustainability into every process of the organization.
  2. Creating the foundation – you can’t go anywhere if you are starting nowhere.
  3. Having a step-by-step approach – what you can measure you can improve.
  4. Managing change and internalizing implementations - create project ownership
  5. Engaging stakeholders – maybe you can offer them something, or them you.

The workshop ended with a final question: Has the Essensus team seen any correlation between high sustainability maturity and high business performance?

Pigosso revealed that the earliest results in fact indicate this, and that they are working to verify the findings. Essensus is currently working on a publication on this matter – expect it soon.

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