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Saturday, 06 June 2020

Embed sustainability in the corporate psyche

Wednesday, 8 January 2014 | Posted by: Tony Mash, TMA Consulting Inc.

My wish for 2014 is that all Coatings Company CEOs will integrate Sustainability into the heart of their business models to ensure that the industry as a whole will be ready to meet the changing demands in downstream markets that growing global population and finite resources will inevitably bring.

‘There is sufficient for the world’s needs, but not for the world’s greed.’  
                                                                               Mahatma Gandhi

For the Coatings Industry, 2013 has been a tough trading period with volume of demand by sector either the same or lower than in the previous year. The year's end was a good time for reflection and a welcome moment to develop fresh resolutions and goals for the New Year.

2013 has also been a year of corporate structural changes and internal production efficiency improvements, together with some fascinating and potentially valuable innovative technical developments based on renewable raw materials on offer from the specialty chemical industry. These positive steps forward can contribute to an ever-improving environmental and economic footprint in the years ahead, if they are pursued in a focused way and exploited to the full.

Outside the industry, however, it would be difficult to believe that the Sustainability ethos of the Coatings Industry has been noticed. Any changes which have taken place across the industry (and there are one or two notable exceptions) have been induced by regulation rather than by a sincere and earnest drive to address the imperatives of sustainable development head-on!

I do not believe that the message of future resource and material constraints has been widely accepted and is being acted upon in a consistent way across the global industry. So, what should all companies in the Coatings Industry have thought about over the holiday season?

I attended a Sustainability Leaders’ Forum in London recently and heard about the wide range of projects in progress or already completed by companies, big and small, not only in the Coatings sector but also in the Communications, Retail, Fashion, Insurance, Transportation, Electronics, Engineering and Speciality Chemicals industries. Energy reduction, waste management and social engagement were the initiatives most frequently referred to by the speakers.

AkzoNobel presented its unique and committed approach to Sustainability which compared well with the progress achieved by leading companies in other fields. However, some presentations outside Coatings failed to impress as they spoke of what were no more than business-as-usual programmes aimed at reducing existing resource consumption; cost saving projects which companies should be doing anyway without reference to the longer term and broader goals of Sustainability.  

One view that resonated with most Forum speakers was that Sustainability needs to be embedded in the corporate psyche and not treated as a bolt-on project, designed solely to enhance the short term bottom line. While many companies at the Forum spoke of profit improvement in return for embracing elements of sustainable development, there was a clear view that long term corporate survival, supported by enhanced competitiveness and profitability, would only be possible if Sustainability itself becomes one of the defining corporate principles that permeates every aspect of business management.

Many companies spoke about the high priority given to the social pillar of Sustainability and, in particular, the drive for improved communications and a deep understanding of the views and values of communities both inside and outside each corporation. This social aspect has been best recognised by the British Coatings Federation’s 2012 Sustainable Innovation award which went to Crown Paints, part of Hempel A/S. Crown had devoted considerable time and resource to the communication of its Sustainability ethics to both employees and its local communities.

Distilling out the key messages from the Forum which are particularly relevant to those companies at the beginning of their Sustainability journey, wherever they are in the world:  

  • The need for sustainable development is here to stay. Companies must decide if they are going to be leaders or followers.
  • Leaders need to be bold in their thinking. There are business rewards for early implementation.
  • Don’t try to invent a sustainability strategy, but work on the sustainability of your strategy.
  • Focus on customer wants and then drive change in product range to meet those needs.
  • Customer education may be required to inform about elements of sustainable development and thereby create demand for sustainable products.
  • When price and quality are equal amongst competitors, brand choice can be based on corporate social purpose.
  • Play to company strengths in creating a sustainable development platform.
  • Be authentic in communicating with customers and employees. Otherwise, initiatives will be seen to be hollow and do damage to company brand image.
  • Track your progress. If you can’t measure, you can’t manage.    

For those who still feel that Sustainability is a fad and will go away with time, one has only to be reminded of a quote from Mahatma Gandhi:     

‘There is sufficient for the world’s needs, but not for the world’s greed.’

Sustainability is a very broad concept and it has many strands. Each one needs to be addressed for long term business success but not necessarily at the same time. I hope that in 2014, CEOs within all Coatings companies will integrate Sustainability into the heart of their business models to ensure that the industry as a whole will be ready to meet the changing demands in downstream markets that growing global population and constrained resources will inevitably bring.

A more sustainable and prosperous 2014 to all.

Tony Mash

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