This break-out session was all about brand positioning and communication and how each line up with sustainability efforts of an organization. There were 4 speakers; Dave Stangis from Campbell Soup, Andreas Ostendorf from FORD Europe, Pío Cabanillas Alonso from Acciona, and Elena Diaz-Alejo from Samsung. The panel was moderated by the CEO/Founder of Sustainable Brands, Koann Vikoren Skrzyniarz, who introduced a lot of thought compelling issues.
We started out by listening to each speaker give a brief introduction of themselves and what their companies are doing in terms of sustainability and responsible business. I found Elena’s summary of Samsung’s efforts to be quite intriguing. In Spain, they are working on two different goals, in an attempt to help the country’s youth. They are working in schools, bringing new technology into the classroom. They are working with 14 different regional governments and over 1500 beneficiaries (students). Along side those efforts, they are developing training programs for teachers who will implement these new technologies into their classrooms, and their goal is to create “white paper digital education.” Their other goal is to address the unemployment issue affecting Spain’s young people by working with universities, setting up training programs that teach 18-25 year olds how to develop applications for Android and the web. I’m interested to see how these efforts play out for Samsung and the young people of Spain.
The discussion transitioned into the topic of communication in regards to sustainability and how/when it is appropriate to convey the purpose of a company to consumers and shareholders. Pío brought up a good point, stating that it is about doing, not talking, and that is exactly what Acciona is conveying to the public. He said his company is a “pioneer in sustainability” and this has been imbedded so deeply in the company’s DNA, sustainability is now the core of their business. He does admit, however, that it continues to be non-stop journey with areas of the business still not fully sustainable.
Andreas mentioned that it is important to have a coherent action plan when you think the market needs a refresh, but we have heard about sustainability in business too often. There is no longer a pull from the market, which makes it difficult to know for sure when it’s necessary to communicate your message. The word “sustainability” itself has lost a lot of its meaning over the years, and it has become more of “an afterthought,” as Andreas states. A lot of this is a cause of the green washing movement that was so prevalent in the last 2000’s where companies were throwing the word around as if it were a famous celebrity that everyone wanted a piece of. Dave added that he saw it as purely audience based. The word has connotations depending on whom you’re addressing. For many individuals, it gets pigeonholed as an issue regarding environment and the same goes for CSR. Both terms have been effected by the maturation of the topic itself, and this has made it difficult for companies to convey their sustainability messages appropriately.
One opinion that was shared amongst all the panelists was “consistency.” Too many times in the past have companies said one thing and done another. Today, companies are becoming more and more transparent, and it’s getting harder for them to just say they are implementing sustainable business practices. Consumers can quickly see right through those false statements are no longer willing to accept empty words. They want action, and this gives companies like Campbell, Samsung, Ford and Acciona an advantage because they are walking the walk, not merely talking the talk.
IESE MBA Class of 2016. Member of the Responsible Business Club and organizing committee of the Doing Good & Doing Well Conference.