Today’s world faces significant challenges. This includes environmental challenges, such as climate disruption caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions, and societal challenges like rising gender pay gap and other forms of social injustice.
Sustainable business plays a key role in addressing ecological and social concerns. Entrepreneurship and innovation are relevant in many different sustainable business contexts. They are fundamental for the success of start-ups and established businesses that are providing innovative solutions to meet environmental or social challenges. It’s important to distinguish between “sustainability as business” versus “trying to make your business more sustainable”. While not every company fits into the former, every company can think about ways to combine business with doing good, and ultimately make the world a little bit better.
Starting with a macro-perspective, people have been advocating the importance of sustainability for 10-15 years. It seems that to the time is finally there to marry business and sustainability. Governments are starting to put their money where their mouths are, while capital is finally flowing towards building business with sustainability as a prerequisite. Corporates are taking real actions instead of purely engaging in sustainability for branding or Corporate Social Responsibility purpose, while start-ups are building more innovative technologies to achieve technical breakthroughs.
Quichen from Scania, a global commercial vehicles OEM, mentioned that Scania is trying to have a holistic approach to make the company more sustainable. “When making our strategy plans, we consider all aspects, both short-term and long-term. We not only pay attention to sustainability at the production level, but when the vehicles are being used by our customers.” Trucks being utilized on the road are clearly an important contributor to CO2 emissions. Scania is trying to do their part in contribution to a solution by working on innovation projects both locally and globally, generating 3 pathways to improve the energy efficiency of products, use alternative fuels, and build digitalized and autonomous solutions for the trucks. Business can stay competitive by marrying innovation and sustainability.
Ami and her agency have been working with multi-nationals - in areas such as FMCG and fast fashion, who are sometimes as well large emitters of CO2. However, she sees sustainability as a growing trend and a lot of marketing campaigns have an authentic dedication to it. According to her, we are past the age of just window-dressing. For example, many brands no longer ask their customers to utilize re-usable bags instead of plastic bags, thereby putting major responsibility on the customer first. Instead, many brands are actually investing in sustainable packaging where most of the packing is becoming fully bio-degradable.
Globally there has been a survey that 62% of consumers, especially millennials and zillennials, are willing to pay more for sustainability. And they want to be part of a brand that demonstrates authenticity. That for brands, sometimes means being transparent with your shortfalls.
Ami also mentioned that the new and upcoming brands are doing a better job than some old schools because they are sustainable business to begin with. “With the digital space we have now, it’s easy to get your message across to the consumers even if your brand awareness might not be as high as the more established brands.” Startups are definitely engaging in more creative marketing tactics. A lot of them are trying guerrilla marketing, which is very tribal and reaches out to the core consumers, people who absolutely care and then become the advocates of your brand.
Heidi suggested that some big companies might be doing more than we actually see. They are worried to be seen as marketing buzz even though sustainability is actually high on the boards’ agenda.
Innovation and sustainability are terms that are often used interchangeably. Many people believe that to truly build a more sustainable world, our only real answer is innovation, finding new ways, new solutions, new technologies to solve huge challenges.
Becky highly recognized the link between innovation and sustainability. “When we use resources, especially natural resources, we need better efficiency and in a better quality. So we invest in technologies.” You have to build more innovative technologies so that users will understand, see what you do, and know how to do it. Then more consumers will change behavior into more sustainable practices.
From the organizational perspective, Becky mentioned that it’s important to balance the short-term benefits with the long-term good. The management team needs to have that mindset and make choices.
From the individual level, every employee from the company can contribute. Make your business sustainable can partially be done from the bottom-up. Individuals have the power to help drive the business’ sustainable shift.
Heidi suggested that every individual could leverage your career. “When you are applying job for any company, ask them about their sustainability approaches. It is your super power to join companies that act sustainable.”
Qiuchen thought that having a sustainable mindset is important. Take commuting as an example, think before you go. Is it ok to go by walk or bicycle? How is it necessary to travel by car? Can you go on ride sharing? This will reflect in your daily life as well as career life.
Becky would like to call on all individuals, “When you go back home, look at the items that are sitting idle, and think about what we can do with them. There are a lot of things that are decent, but you don’t use them for a very long time. However, people in underdeveloped countries can make really good use of the items that you are not using.”
From Ami’s marketing perspective, “If you see good marketing campaigns on sustainability, you can help to spread the words to a wider audience.”
We are moving towards a more sustainable world where we leverage technology and innovation. It’s easier said than done. Building a sustainable business does not have to come at the cost of growth or profits. Make sustainability your strategic purpose, invest in technology and innovation, grow your people’s sustainable mindset, and ultimately you will build successful businesses for good.
This is a recap of the live panel discussion at 2021 Ladies Who Tech Convention in Shanghai. Check out more at https://www.ladieswhotech.cn/2021-convention
Luuk has been working with tech startups for 10 years, with 4 years’ experience in China. In his dealings with hundreds of companies, he found that women are still under-represented at senior levels like CEO, CTO, etc.
Waste2Wear makes high quality fabrics from recycling plastics. Besides her role as CMO, Heidi authored a landmark report titled “Sustainable investment with Chinese Characteristics”.
Quichen has a background in engineering and is specialized in successfully building collaboration in complex multi-organization setups.
Becky joined Aihuishou in 2014 and has built the company into the largest platform for recycling and environmental protection disposal of pre-owned electronic products in China.
Ami is a marketing professional with 15 years of experience in media creative, traditional and digital advertising at agencies. She is a communication strategist and has an intimate knowledge in 360 degrees all-round brand building.