Sustainability is on the agenda of most executives in 2020 along with Corona and digitalisation. And as an advisor to both private companies and public organisations I have seen how sustainability has shifted from being a peripheral CSR matter to being a business-critical strategic objective.

There is no doubt that if we are to fulfil the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, it will require a huge effort – and not just from states and international organisations. Success will only be feasible if we cooperate across sectors and industries. But why should you contribute as a private business? Won’t these goals just mean additional costs, hurting our profitability?

The answer is yes and no.

Yes, because there will naturally be costs involved in changing your production and behaviour to e.g. reduce your carbon footprint or to have more environmentally-friendly manufacturing processes. These changes will involve initial costs.

And no, because sustainability initiatives can act as a lever for financial growth in companies that successfully incorporate sustainability in their strategy.

 

WE HAVE A GOOD HEAD START IN DENMARK 

This trend is already quite strong in Denmark. Ørsted was ranked as the world’s most sustainable company in 2020 and stated: “To do good and to do well must go hand in hand”. Major Danish companies have been working on sustainable transformations for some time now, and it is now time for small and medium-sized businesses to join the party.

They are not only facing demands from the large companies. As an example, Novo Nordisk has stated the target that all their suppliers must be 100% based on sustainable energy sources by the year 2030. Businesses are also facing demands from customers and employees. Small and medium-sized businesses are now also expected to take responsibility for the sustainability agenda.

 

HOW DO YOU GET FROM SUSTAINABILITY TO PROFIT?

To recognise sustainability as a driver for growth and to incorporate sustainability in your business agenda will be license to operate, both now and going forward. It can be a challenging transformation, but it is necessary.

But how do you get from idea to action and from sustainability to profit?

  • As a business, you first and foremost have to make some strategic choices. The sustainability agenda is broad, and with 17 sustainable development goals and 247 indicators, you should focus on those issues where you can and will make a difference. You cannot change the world. Find out what you can change with your business and then go all the way
  • Work iteratively and fail fast. This is new and uncharted territory to many, and it could mean an actual transformation of your business. You cannot plan this in detail from the beginning. It is therefore critical that you are not afraid to fail. Just make sure to do it fast and learn from your mistakes. Keep this in mind from the beginning, and design your process based on the principle “Fail fast”
  • Cooperate and reach out. Release the energy, knowledge and resources that can be found in cooperation between the executive team, employees, partners and customers. The combined pool of capacity and knowledge on possible improvements will enable you to make a huge difference

 

PRIVATE COMPANIES ARE THE CRITICAL RESOURCE

It is in the businesses that we find the real power and resources for positive change. Whether or not successive governments want to introduce half a million or one million electric cars in 2030 or whether there are two or four meat-free days in government canteens won’t rock the boat. The real waves are made by the many small and large Danish companies that work daily on ensuring growth in their companies for the benefit of their employees and society.

My advice to you is to move sustainability from the back seat of your CSR work to the front seat of your business strategy and to let sustainability be a driver for innovation, efficiency improvements and optimisation in your business.

Focus on the difference you are making – to the world, to your employees and your customers and to your bottom line.

 

This article was originally published in Danish in InsideBusiness.