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With the ever-increasing pressure of rapidly growing populations and middle classes in developing markets and carbon footprint expansion, businesses are increasingly realizing that sustainability has to become core to the way they do business.
One can no longer ignore the fact that the atmosphere has reached 400 ppm of carbon dioxide for the first time in about 3 million years, indicating that we’re not slowing emissions. Further to this, the UN indicates that 47 out of 50 key sustainability indicators have worsened over the past few years. The scope, scale and speed of the sustainability challenge ahead is clear.
With that in mind, Accenture’s Sustainability 24 once again convened thought-leaders across the world to debate and discuss the challenges and opportunities that business sustainability presents. The highlight of the day, the 12-hour online, live broadcast connected 62 speakers with thousands of viewers all engaging in the sustainability debate. Business leaders, academics, policy makers and civil society from more than 90 countries connected.
One theme coming across loud and clear from this year’s discussion is that we need to shift gears—both in scale and ambition—when it comes to sustainability. We need to move beyond pilot projects and small-scale successes, and focus on how we use sustainability innovation to transform organizations (and economies) at their cores, making them fully sustainable, through scaling the incremental changes and adopting key lessons learnt along the way.
Clearly the answer is multi-faceted and Sustainability 24 addressed challenges such as the New Resources Economy, the management of energy, how to engage tomorrow’s consumer, food security and sustainable supply chains.
This report reflects the views of 62 executives and thought leaders who participated in Accenture Sustainability 24, 2013, and adds to Accenture’s growing body of sustainability-related research. Some of the specific themes of this report include:
Sustainable strategies, innovation and business models: Exploring scalable business models and new forms of collaboration that can take sustainability from pilot projects to mainstream.
Sustainability and operational excellence: Scrutinizing operations and supply chain transparency to optimize resource consumption and promote innovation.
Energy and resource optimization: Re-examining consumer demand and global supply chain practices to address resource efficiency.
Leading sustainability professionals addressed pressing sustainability challenges pertaining to specific geographies or business situations as well as universal application. Following are the key insights generated from these conversations:
China: The challenges faced by a newly urban Chinese civilization are truly global. In the new resource economy, time is of the essence and decisive action is needed.
South Africa: South African companies need to work with their labor forces to achieve real change.
Total energy management: Energy efficiency pushes cost competitiveness in an increasingly constrained global market. But if you can’t track it you can’t improve it.
Circular businesses: Circular business models should be creators of value, not just cost reduction techniques. They can help companies compete as well as reduce their footprints.
Sustainable consumption: Business-as-usual on global consumption is not an option. The onus is on companies to scale-up their messaging on sustainable products without impacting on desirability.
The Energiewende: Germany’s policy of “Energiewende” aiming to abandon nuclear energy in 10 years, will need a European super-grid and the acceptance of higher short-term prices for electricity to succeed. But low carbon price poses a serious problem.
Sustainable supply chain: Reducing environmental impact across a whole supply chain requires customers and vendors to work together. Relationships and standardized information can help.
Innovative business growth: Sustainable transformation often requires shifting from products to ‘solutions’. But internal competition and “silo-thinking” can hamper innovation.
Energy access for development impact: The expansion of renewable energy is not a technical problem but a distribution problem. New Business models show huge promise for reaching the poorest and most remote communities.
Driving business growth, while solving the global food challenge: Feeding a hungry world will not succeed without the cooperation of all agricultural stakeholders: large and small and focusing not just on production but on reducing consumption of resources such as nutrients, water and land.
Open data and analytics: Cities should be at the forefront of harnessing the information we need to be more sustainable. Provided they share the data properly.
Systemic changes in business—from strategy to planning, design and implementation—as well as the dissemination of best practices are essential to meet today’s sustainability challenges. Accenture believes the following elements are critical for successful sustainability innovation and transformation:
Leadership: The commitment from an organization’s leadership should go beyond mere promises by the chief executive officer to ensuring that sustainability is embedded in all aspects of the business.
Redefining value: Organizations need to closely look at what is really adding value. Profits, commodity prices, etc. can no longer be the only measure of a business’ success.
Partnerships and collaboration: An organization’s openness and willingness to collaborate across nontraditional boundaries, even collaborating with competitors, is critical to addressing the complexities of sustainable growth.
Readiness to innovate: Companies that adapt well to change and innovation will survive.
Focus on circular economy: Organizations need to commit to innovation and transformation by moving away from the linear take-make-waste system to a circular process of production.
Technology: Data analytics and integrated reporting must be used to add value on a broader level, and both environmental and societal impact must be linked to business value.
Sustainability for all: Making sustainability accessible to wider audiences by involving communicators, marketers, psychologists, etc. is critical for increasing adoption rates and customer demand for sustainable goods and services.
June 20, 2013
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