Q&A: Leading companies with an environmental, social and sustainable mindset

Sustainability is becoming a new criterion for an organization’s investment strategy and financial decision-making. This is why IBM is pushing its corporate social responsibility to the highest standards possible.

But talking about sustainability is one thing. How can a company get closer to becoming a sustainable enterprise, and where do they even start? 

“So, one starting point is definitely to be looking at your data,” said Lucy Baunay (pictured right), senior consultant in experience strategy and UX design at IBM. “So that’s why … we’ve created the Sustainable Design Thinking Toolkit. It’s meant to help design thinking practitioners take responsibility for making that impact visible from the very start of the process. And we’ve used it with multiple clients and for internal products, and it’s helped infuse a sustainable mindset throughout the workflows,” Baunay said.

Baunay; Ally Karmali (pictured left), practice lead of risk and compliance/sustainability and climate at IBM Canada; and Keric Morris (pictured center), executive partner and enterprise strategy global energy and sustainability lead at IBM, spoke with Dave Vellante (@dvellante), host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s livestreaming studio, during IBM Think. They discussed enterprise sustainability, leadership role, challenges and the starting point. (* Disclosure below.)

[Editor’s note: The following content has been condensed for clarity.]

Lucy, what is sustainability and how has it all of a sudden become such a hot topic amongst leadership?

Baunay: Sustainability really means addressing the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. To do so, companies use different frameworks and standards, including ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) criteria, to assess their progress on their journey to sustainability. It comes with many metrics that they track and choose to disclose for the greater benefit of all. 

You could take Unilever and the really radical transformation of the palm oil industry they’re leading. If Unilever did nothing, the serious risk would really be posed in a few years on their whole business. So, the company has started working with all actors across its value chain, from training farmers to building alliances with competitors and stakeholders. And you know, what Unilever is doing for the palm oil industry is actually cementing its reputation as an innovator. 

So my take away there is it’s not a checkbox. It’s something that’s sort of designed in. Keric, I wonder if you could talk to that. 

Morris: Sustainability at the end of the day, it’s built into every decision, every process, every system. And you know, the leadership role in that space is about developing new corporate strategies, new cultures, new approaches. This is a real paradigm shift. It’s not something you add to your business; it’s something that needs to be core to your business. 

And, and the key part of that is how do you do this in a way where you’re not forcing people to make a choice between sustainability and profitability, sustainability and a way of quality of life. And … how do I then change the way that I work with partners, with suppliers, with competitors. So it’s, it’s really fundamentally changing the way the business itself works as well.

Ally, maybe you could address some of the challenges that organizations are facing to really lean in and address ESG. 

Karmali: I’d say that the first challenge that I see is in regards to the alignment and integration of sustainability strategy within the organization’s business model. So, if we take a look at the typical life cycle, which includes sourcing, production, operations, distribution and then end of life and recycling, each of these components must consider the conduits for driving positive social impact and environmental stewardship. But that also drives opportunity and economic benefits for the organization.

The second challenge that I see is around performance monitoring and management. And so many organizations might not have the complexity roadmap laid out for the systems and data that are required in order to enable transparent and quality reporting. And then finally we see sustainability has become a board-level priority. It is a hot topic, but it’s not always properly understood below the board level. 

Keric, could you talk about that ecosystem flywheel. 

Morris: There are organizations that are seeing this as an existential change. Looking at mining, oil and gas, travel and transport, what we’re seeing is a fundamental shift in their business. That’s requiring them to rethink how they do things in a very structured and actually quite an extended way. And then you’ve got influencers around that as well. So, governments, financial services, players, etc., who are sort of shaping the agenda and who need help and support.

I think that’s where an organization like IBM comes in. There’s a lot of technical change here, a lot of data change here. And, actually, these are the sorts of things that from a sustainability perspective are going to help to drive this in a more seamless and achievable way.

Ally, do you have a framework for what a successful outcome looks like? 

Karmali: Companies have really started to think about the connection point between the value that’s driven by their business model and the effort and the impact that’s being driven by their ESG focus. And so, while there might be components of success, I think getting it all together and all right is going to take time. And it’s going to be a bit of a sequence. 

Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE’s and theCUBE’s coverage of IBM Think. (* Disclosure: TheCUBE is a paid media partner for IBM Think. Neither IBM, the sponsor for theCUBE’s event coverage, nor other sponsors have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

Photo: SiliconANGLE

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