The Truth About Corporate Success: Sustainability

In this interview, Helle Bank Jorgensen and I discuss the importance of accountability and sustainability.

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Sustainability Climate Change

When a company with global reach implements sustainability changes, they often push their suppliers to do the same. Companies can benefit from these changes not only financially but their reputation also improves. Nobody understands that better than Helle Bank Jorgensen. She is one of the biggest names in sustainability and climate change. She is the creator of the first Green Account, the world’s first integrated report, and the first holistic supply change program. 

Helle Bank Jorgensen is also the CEO and founder of Competent Boards.  The Competent Boards involves over 70 global leaders getting together for 12 online sessions to discuss these issues.  The goal is to leave the last session with the knowledge to implement change in your own business. Through this organization, Helle is able to share her knowledge and advice on how to best handle environmental, social, and governance challenges. 

Helle Bank Jorgensen has dedicated her life to improving how businesses tackle Environment, Social, and Governance issues. Nearly 30 years ago, she was behind the world’s first Green Account and later the world’s first integrated report and first holistic supply change program. She has helped many companies, investors, and boards articulate and confidently acts on the most critical aspects of a resilient business. She now educates boards and executives via the global Competent Boards Certificate Program, a program that has received so much positive feedback that world leaders support.

Critical Issues to Businesses

Recently, Helle and I sat down to discuss the importance of corporate sustainability, accountability, and climate change. In our conversation, we talked about the future of business as we know it, including the implications of Larry Fink’s Climate Change letter, Billionaire Marc Benioff’s comment “Capitalism is Dead”, and the fallout of Senator Mitch McConnell’s statement; “I am not impartial” comment, and much more!

Companies can be overwhelmed by terms such as corporate cultural diversity, inclusion, corporate and social responsibility, sustainability, B-Corps, Green Corps, conscious capitalism, environmental sustainability, pay equality, etc.

I wanted to understand how you and I can take these “labels” out of the vague and build them into our oversight and incentives so that it doesn’t just become a cool marketing trend, but rather a way of doing business?

In the past, most businesses would have turned away from such pressure.  However, today leaders are holding their companies accountable to issues such as these. This, usually, is not done because it is the right thing to do but because it is almost required in today’s society. Twenty years ago, this may not have been the case but now it is.  

Holding People Accountable

Accountability essentially means responsibility.  Everyone is held accountable by someone else. For example, If a student forgets to turn in their homework, they are held accountable by their teachers. If an employee is behind on their work, their boss holds them responsible.  

But, what happens when no one is held accountable for their actions? Do we all look the other way? Or, do we step in and speak up?  If countries refuse to acknowledge the threat of climate change, who holds them responsible?

Helle noted that, oftentimes, it is the consumers’ and investors’ responsibility to hold a company accountable.  Employers can hold their employers accountable through protesting. Consumers can hold companies accountable through boycotting certain stores or products. On a corporate level, it is the responsibility of the board members to hold CEOs accountable. However, this is not always possible.  

As an example, we discussed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.  The EPA restrictions are often vague and up to interpretation. This allows companies or individuals to find loopholes.  Again, if companies are able to evade these regulations, who steps in?

Furthermore, laws about the environment are often voted for based on economic impacts rather than the environmental impact.  Here is an example to explain: until your house is on fire, you do not really care about the fire department. If your house is on fire, then you care about the fire department.

This argument applies to any of the following: equal pay, sustainability, social responsibility, etc.

Leaders Implementing Change

In order for Fortune 500 companies to become prominent leaders, they need to pay attention to these issues.  When a company with global reach implements such changes, they often push their suppliers to do the same. Companies can benefit from these changes not only financially but their reputation also improves.  

Helle encourages leaders to ask “What are we going to do about this?”, “Are you prepared?”, and “Am I going to make a different decision than if I did not know this?”.  To expand upon this, Helle gives the example of a mother and child relationship. A mother would never “wait and see” how a problem pans out. If there was an issue, a mother would address it.

I asked Helle to give us the best example of a company that faced this change head-on and strived to make a real difference.  For the best example, she named a surprising company: Wal-Mart. According to Helle, the company looked to its supply chain as a way to reduce its carbon footprint.  In turn, the company not only saved money but sparked innovation.   

Leaders are everywhere.  There is no shortage of people willing to take on a problem and show others the way.  But there is a difference between a leader and a courageous leader. Leaders require both curiosity and courage.  Many people focus on courage rather than curiosity but they’re equally important. Leaders without curiosity cling to what they know and refuse to adapt to the changing world, something no leader can afford to do in the current economic climate.  While leaders who put courage first, fight without a cause. 

According to Helle, some of the most important steps in this time of change are understanding the information given to us and changing our mindsets. Helle is ‘cautiously optimistic’ that change is happening!  However, this change relies on accountability and thinking long-term.

Consider how you can add to the conversation. How can you, as a consumer, hold companies accountable?  How can you encourage and further the discussion of sustainability?  What is the real cost?

Dov Baron is first and foremost “The Dragonist”. As The Dragonist, he teaches us how to recognize, find, retain and nurture dragons (top talent) hidden within our organizations. Want to learn more about what Dov has to offer, and how you too can become a Dragonist in your realm? If you and your leadership team are dedicated to getting the result you set out to achieve in the most meaningful manner, bring Dov in to speak to your organization about the strategic advantages of Dragon Leadership. Go here to get started.Copyright: Dov Baron International 2020

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