Written by Ryan Lewis
“No one is too small to make a difference”. The words and the demonstrable actions of 16-year old climate activist Greta Thunberg who last Friday inspired the world’s largest ever climate change protest. In 185 countries, in cities and towns all around the globe, including here in Leeds, people came together to demand climate action.
The Swedish teenager began her school strike on her own outside her national parliament. Twelve months later and millions of children and adults joined her. It’s an inspiring story, which we can all learn from as individuals and one which companies can also be inspired by especially on the cusp of 2020, when so many will be writing their corporate visions and narratives for the future.
2020 not only sounds positively science-fictional but it will also be judgement year for corporates which set themselves targets and goals in corporate sustainability strategies written at the start of the millennium. It’s now time to set new goals, write a new corporate narrative and to look a future which will challenge all of us in ways we currently find hard to imagine, or perhaps don’t want to imagine.
It’s fitting that as we collectively leave the teenage years of this century behind us, it’s a teenager who is asking the world to grow up, to be responsible, and to not only imagine better but asking us all to be better. No matter the size of your company, it must ask itself the question Greta asked at the World Economic Forum in January 2019 – will you pledge to stand on the right side of history?
In 2020, it’s time to make your pledge and write your company’s vision and narrative for a sustainable future.
Here are seven ways to test your company’s 2020 vision for corporate responsibility:
Never has there been a greater need for companies to be coherent when it comes to the future. A lot of the different issues and ideas need to be discussed when thinking about your company’s vision for being sustainable and prosperous in the future. Explaining them all might be tricky. Visualising them can be overwhelming. But your company will face sustainability challenges in the future – this is certain.
Like Greta, you will need to engage people at every level, including employees, stakeholders and customers. A lot of the resistance and denial towards climate change is underpinned not by a lack of belief but simply by a lack clarity.
People, however, will engage with and act on things that are, to quote Greta again, ‘black and white’. Greta’s message is clear, so clear in fact schoolchildren around the world understand it in their millions.
Companies should adopt the same principle. Is your corporate responsibility vision for the future so clear a child could understand it?
There must be breadth and scope to your corporate responsibility vision. Energy reduction, recycling initiatives and fundraising are all well and good but they are licence to operate.
Companies must thinker harder and must think in terms of the triple bottom line: environmental impact, social impact, and economic impact. Keep your vision wide and think about all the touchpoints where your company can have a positive impact and ways to improve where they currently have a negative impact.
Honesty is the best policy when it comes to communicating your corporate responsibility vision. If being good makes your company money, then say it. You have a business case for being responsible. When it comes to your 2020 vision, transparency will be key.
Transparent, trackable and traceable information is preferable to fake news. NGOs, the media and the consumer have all become more savvy and will only become more so to exposing and shaming companies when they fall short of their promises.
Greta Thunberg is a leader. She leads by example. She doesn’t waiver from her belief and her rationale is logic. Corporate leaders need to do the same. A company’s vision for the future must be set out by its leadership. This is the only way to encourage support at every level of the organisation.
If your company wants to be credible and wants its vision for the future to be believable then this must infuse through the company from the top down. Corporate responsible leadership is not dictatorial instead it must educate, inspire and lead by example. If a 16 year old can inspire millions to act then a good CEO, with years of experience, must be able to inspire a few hundred employees to engage.
Seeing a school pupil speak so passionately about their future is authentic. It is believable. This is what make’s Greta’s message so powerful. It should be exactly the same for your vision for the future. If it doesn’t fit your brand, don’t do it or say it. If you make drinks then you need to talk about water and plastic. If you sell burgers then you need to talk about farming and animal rights. If you sell cars don’t think sponsoring an art festival will answer questions about what you are doing about emissions.
Be authentic to how your brand looks too. If it’s important enough to have a vision for the future then do it in a way that makes people associate it with you. Don’t get distracted by greenwash, and feel-good fluffiness just because you are talking about the future.
When you have something important to say and want people to listen, having powerful and trustworthy friends is important. Look how every politician around has clambered for their photo call with Greta. They know that there is a power by association. When it comes corporate responsibility this is particularly true. Reputable NGOs, academic institutes and even the right celebrity can all make your vision for the future more credible and have greater impact.
Most importantly, when communicating your vision for the future be bold, be ambitious, be iconic. Think, like Greta, bigger than you are. No one is too small to make a difference. Unlike governments who can’t think further than four years, companies exist for decades. Do you want all that history and hard work to be lost because you couldn’t think big?
The future promises sustainability challenges to every single company on the planet. Like nature, all companies are interconnected with complex supply chains, sales streams and lifecycles of their products and services. No matter the size of your company, it needs a vision for the future.
It’s nearly 2020, the future is here. It’s time to ask yourself do you want your company to exist in a positive sustainable future or be confined to history because you simply didn’t imagine better?
Ryan Lewis has over 10 years’ experience working on corporate responsibility strategy, brand narrative and corporate communications. Get in touch if your company needs to define its 2020 vision for the future.