Government & Public

Sustainability transformation: turning a promise into reality

‘If we keep doing business as we’ve done for the last 250 years, nature will wipe us out’: a pithy summary by Antonio Hautle from the UN Global Compact Network. But how can sustainability be embedded within companies? And how can this concept be put into practice?  

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Antonio Hautle, Executive Director of the UN Global Compact Network for Switzerland & Liechtenstein, and Christoph Broecker, Head of Sustainability at the Zühlke Group, came together at our Late Afternoon Talk on ‘Sustainability transformation: turning a promise into reality’ to discuss the answers to these questions. They used tangible examples to illustrate how companies can integrate their sustainability-related promises into their corporate strategies and, in turn, bring their sustainability transformation to a successful conclusion – whether on a strategic level, or when introducing sustainable business models or designing products for the circular economy.  

The full insights can be found in the recording of the Late Afternoon Talk. The recording is only available in German, but here is a summary of the key points. 

"Sustainability has now become mainstream in society - it's on everyone's lips"

Laying the foundations: striking a balance between the three dimensions of sustainability

Doing business successfully and sustainably involves environmental, social and economic factors along the entire value chain. These three dimensions need to be in perfect harmony if companies want to reach the sustainability goals they’ve set. During challenging periods, in particular, companies tend to focus on economic aspects, with environmental and social elements being somewhat neglected. Companies can prevent this from happening by taking an overarching approach to governance that safeguards the balance between the three dimensions and sets out appropriate goals. That’s all well and good – but how can companies draw up goals that align with the market, their corporate strategy and the regulations at play? 

Finding your feet: the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent 17 tangible sustainability goals to be achieved by 2030. Growing numbers of companies are affirming their commitment to these sustainability transformation goals, using them to formulate relevant sustainability-related promises for their organisation. To prevent firms from merely paying lip service to sustainability, the UN Global Compact helps companies do their bit to support responsible governance and the SDGs. At our Late Afternoon Talk, Antonio Hautle specifically recommended drawing on the SDGs and 10 principles of the UN Global Compact (human rights, labour, environment, and anti-corruption) to identify and improve the impact that companies can have, be it positive or negative – albeit step-by-step. 

graphic sustainable development goals of the UN Image source: United Nations. The content of this publication has not been approved by the United Nations and does not reflect the views of the United Nations or its officials or Member States.

Taking the initial step: the right sustainability strategy

At first glance, the UN’s 17 goals can be rather overwhelming for companies to get to grips with. Firms need to whittle them down to a clear area of focus if they want to make this complexity manageable: they should identify where their core skills lie and scale them to correspond with the UN’s sustainability goals. In so doing, they can pinpoint areas where they can swiftly take their initial steps and drive forward sustainable change. Furthermore, our experience shows that sustainable initiatives can only enjoy long-term success if they are aligned with the company’s strategy and core skills. 

In our talk, Chris Bröcker emphasised that it’s more important to take the first step than to strive for perfection from the get-go. He illustrated this with a clear example: a product manufacturer, for instance, is better off focusing on its products during its sustainability initiative so it can generate an impact through its primary business activities. Other initiatives, such as planting trees, may well make sense in principle, but they don’t have anything to do with the company’s core endeavours. They cause additional outlay outside its business operations, which, consequently, throws the environmental, social and economic aspects out of balance. 

The key to the sustainability journey: mutual learning

Sharing experiences with others plays a key role in making sustainability goals a reality – in line with the motto of ‘achieving more, together’. While sustainability is the subject of heated debate at present, only a very small number of companies have in-depth experience in formulating sustainability goals and putting them into practice. With this in mind, we’d recommend sharing your sustainability journey with others. This is precisely why Zühlke has launched the Sustainability Circle, a cross-industry network for sustainable products, services, and business models. ‘These kinds of networks are crucial for facilitating dialogue; they enable members to benefit from each other and to learn from each other,’ says Antonio Hautle. Regular dialogue creates positive pressure and means that important issues are increasingly likely to reach the right people – and spark the right actions. 

Do you have any questions about sustainability at Zühlke or specific queries about your own sustainability transformation? Then get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.