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Empowering teams to advance sustainability

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By Shawn Welch ,Vice President and General Manager of Hi-Cone Worldwide, a solutions provider for beverage multi-packaging.

Amidst the current health crisis, business leaders don’t just have the opportunity, but the responsibility to make lasting, positive changes by re-interpreting the business challenges in the pandemic – without forgetting or minimising the toll it has taken. There is no way around it: the future must be more sustainable, and the only way to achieve this is to make sure organisations, and the people who embody these organisations, embed sustainability into their core business models.

In our personal lives, many of us are among those for whom environmental and economic concern have only increased; as business leaders, however, we realise that that what consumers want – more sustainability – and how much progress businesses can make without risking their viability might not be quite so easily reconciled. This does not mean that we should give up on ambitious goals: instead, we need to reframe the way we look at sustainability. As those making the calls on how to advance sustainability, we have the opportunity to be more proactive and consider the long-term implications and complete research-based due diligence. This includes looking at how these changes impact business results as well as our teams. We need to motivate every member of our organisations to advance sustainability in order to truly change business models to become more sustainable.

In these uncertain times, being a leader means making tough calls, especially as they relate to sustainability. For the good of future generations, meeting the UN’s ambitious 2030 Sustainable Development Goals remains crucial. However, . Reusing materials as many times as possible requires that products are designed for re-use, re-manufacturing, repair or restarting.  This illustrates why we need to be bringing employees across departments and functions on board: changes can be made across a product’s lifecycle and, on a larger scale, within the organisation. Functional experts in the business are best suited to spot opportunities in their particular areas. This is imperative when we are looking to make real change, as every single small change will ultimately help improve In addition to redesigning products and business processes, reuse and recycling initiatives can also contribute.

All in all, we need to involve everyone to make the future of our business and our societies more sustainable. This will take different shapes in the manifold ways businesses operate. The packaging industry, for example, has had a big push towards improving sustainability recently, as packaging companies’ customers and consumers alike are increasingly have been advocating for change. Here, people’s ingenuity is key to unlocking new ideas, from minimising a product’s carbon footprint or making recycling easier for consumers, to lifecycle-assessment-based product redesigns and using smaller amounts of recycled plastics instead of larger quantities of cardboard. Creative alternatives to ‘the way we do things around here’ mean that companies can enjoy the long-lasting benefits that come with implementing them. As leaders, we need to take charge: research-driven approaches need to get everyone on-board. We can cement these by management committing to sustainability goals as part of our business plans. Slowly but surely, companies are converging on this topic, from small local business founded on sustainability principles to large multinational. Recently, for example, at a  Reuters Responsible Business Summit virtual panel, I was part of an interesting conversation with Yolanda Malone, Vice President Global R&D Snacks PKG, PepsiCo. She outlined how leaders have to drive the behaviours within the organisation and the tone for the culture, explaining that her sustainable plastics vision is a world where plastics never become waste. Only through putting the mantra of “reduce, recycle, rethink and reinvent” can we bring circular products to consumer. She stressed that, if we don’t reinvent, we will fall back into old habits.

This way of thinking and acting also implies that mindsets need to continue to change. Internally, teams need to understand that sustainability is one of the key requirements of the businesses they are working for and, at the same time, consumers need to be clear about what their choices and the impact of these choices are. The only way we can do this is to change our businesses from the inside out, allowing for close collaboration inside and outside of our organisations. Looking beyond our own efforts can open up new sustainability avenues by working with governments and recycling organisations. Efforts are multiplied by working together, as improved recycling infrastructure and an emphasis on consumer education can, for example, start a virtuous cycle. Adding to that is that sustainability-focused R&D must be in place – once again going back to the idea of change starting ‘at home’ in our organisations and teams. With the new year drawing closer and opening up new possibilities, it’s an important opportunity to work together to empower various stakeholders to find the key to their sustainability potential.

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