An inspiring day at Sustainability Leaders Forum 2014

20th November 2014


This is a blog post by Lisa Walkley, EAUC Membership and Communications Manager.

Yesterday I attended the Sustainability Leaders Forum 2014 at the beautiful Hotel Russell in London. This annual event is the daytime event ahead of the Sustainability Leaders Awards.

The event marketing states that the most forward-thinking companies with an emphasis on innovation, environmental and social issues will be rewarded both financially and with longevity. This is a critical viewpoint in education too so it was interesting to see how business was approaching sustainability especially with such a focus on leadership and long term thinking.

The event truly brought sustainability leaders together to discuss the topic of sustainability leadership (mainly in business). With many forward thinking speakers on the bill, it was great to witness  the nodding heads around the room to all of the key points being made. Looking at the delegate list, it's shame to see that the event was preaching to the converted with most attendee roles being focussed on sustainability – to see some Chief Executives or Finance Directors would be a significant step forward.

Some of our own sustainability leaders were present with representatives from The University of Nottingham, Nottingham Trent University, University of Greenwich and Birmingham City University.

Some of the themes addressed during the day are clearly transferrable to many sectors:
• Sustainability in banking - the third leg of the stool
• How business can support and enhance modern society
• How do we really make a difference to people's lives over and above the turnover of a relatively small enterprise?
• Integrated thinking - how do you create and measure significant value beyond financial return?
• Integrating natural capital concerns into business risk evaluations, accounting systems and investor communications
• The role of innovation in moving towards a circular economy
• The role of mobile in transforming the way corporates engage with their value chain
• Adapting to the changing landscape of sustainability through an integrated strategic approach
• Sustainability across the food and beverage lifecycle
• How can the financial system support a more sustainable and resilient economy?
• Aligning sustainability and financial objectives within a major retailer
• Adopting a holistic approach to sustainability beyond environmental objectives
• The role of business in moving from incremental to transformational change
• How do you make a sustainable lifestyle attractive and attainable?
• Building the Net Positive agenda to scale: what will sustainability leadership look like tomorrow?

Some of my favourite key points from the day were:

Dr. Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director, Greenpeace International – when asked about how sustainability is linked to business he replied “there are no jobs on a dead planet”. He also noted that “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. What happens in the Arctic impacts the globe.”

Dr. Andy Wood, OBE, Chief Executive Officer from Adnams was a very interesting speaker in showing how Adnams is an example of local integration of minimisation, social and business objectives. It’s clearly a compelling place to work and this then translates into a compelling place to shop! In the brewing process, Adnams only uses 3.1 pints of water per pint of beer, compared with industry average of 6-8 pints!

Joanna Yarrow, Head of Sustainability, IKEA UK & Ireland and Founder & Non-Executive Director, Beyond Green Group took a poll and it found that the majority of delegates cite lack of time as main obstacle to making greener choices. No surprise there!

Dr. Steve Waygood, Chief Responsible Investment Officer at Aviva Investors gave an excellent overview of potential for investors to drive sustainability – “the companies you invest in are shaping the future you retire into”. He started his presentation by asking who has a pension (lots of hands of course). Then do you know which companies these pensions are being invested into (95% of hands went down) and then how many of you voted at the AGM on the sustainability strategy for these companies (no hands were up!). He also commented that infinitely better financial literacy is needed for end-users to drive long term capital markets.

Paul Crewe, Head of Sustainability, Engineering and Energy at Sainsbury’s presented some interesting insight. All of Sainsbury’s sustainability measures make “absolute business sense” and the CFO is accountable for them. Plus, every board member has personal responsibility for one of its 5 values! Also, great to hear that 143 stores operate at zero cost due to energy saving measures across the business.

The slides from the day’s presentations are available at http://www.sustainabilityleaders.net/24200
Find out the 2014 Award winners at http://awards.edie.net/
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