It did not take long for this session to get interesting. The brief introduction by each of the three speakers, Andreas Kicherer of BASF, Heather Dietz of Interface, and Pedro Tarak of Sistema B, gave me a good idea of what I could expect during the discussion. My personal highlight had to have been the extremely energetic Pedro Tarak (of Sistema B) describing his idea of sustainability, stating that the human collective should strive forwards with an ‘evolution of the economy and the markets towards the era of sustainability’. I have to say that the ‘era of sustainability’ has a certain ring to it!
The three speakers were very clear and concise when they portrayed their individual companies approach toward sustainability. It almost seemed like they were each a perfect fit for their respective corporate culture that they were describing. Mr. Kicherer of BASF aptly discussed the difficulties when incorporating a sustainability program across such a diverse product offering and industry portfolio. He suggested that when a company has such a large reach, it is a through a combination of decentralized (and varying) requirements to comply with standards, whilst the centralized corporate sustainability office contributes with the application of more strategic decisions, such as M&A, increased standards compliance, etc. He mentioned the different levels of transparency and compliancy that different regions and cultures demand from corporations.
Ms. Dietz, from Interface, told a fascinating story of how the sudden shift in company policy to incorporate a sustainable mindset evolved. One day in 1994, the founder of the company, Ray Anderson, came into work and decided that from then on, Interface would conduct itself with an environment first approach. Interface seems to thrive off of this corporate culture, embracing the development of company ambassadors who act as thought leaders in the industry. They even organize tribal gatherings where Interface managers and executives interact with all types of people and gain experiential learning. Ms. Dietz went on to describe the difficulties that some middle managers have experienced balancing the pressure of day-to-day operational tasks with corporate carbon reduction targets. To paraphrase how she felt the experience creates value and develops organizational leadership; it’s not about reaching the destination, but how you get there.
Finally, Mr. Tarak spoke passionately about his visions of a better economic model, one that replaces financial results with a more encompassing balance of economic, social, and environmental value. I have to say that I found his energy and passion for a shared value economy quite contagious. He is currently working with Sistema B, an organization helping bring to light companies that think about business in a different way. B businesses are certified by Sistema B to have the ability to generate value without compromising themselves (or the ecosystem in which they operate) in their journey of value creation and capture. Mr. Tarak emphasized the human aspect of business. We are not perfect, we are human. We must share our collective experience in a much more open and transparent manner in order to learn from each others’ failures and triumphs.
A very inspiring talk all around.