Why a short-term approach to business sustainability could prove fatal

Industry News

Why a short-term approach to business sustainability could prove fatal

It’s hard to believe it’s almost ten years since Unilever launched its Sustainable Living Plan. Sustainable Living Plan.

Our brains are not programmed to think far ahead. Psychologists have long documented our innate short-termism and struggle to consider the long-term consequences of our actions. It’s why so many people put off saving for retirement. It’s also why it’s taken business decades to acknowledge its responsibility to the environment and society.

It’s hard to believe it’s almost ten years since Unilever launched its Sustainable Living Plan. Shortly after being appointed CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman made the bold decision to prioritise environmental and social impact, even if that meant sacrificing business growth. The perfect example of flying in the face of short-termism.

But despite the trailblazers, many business leaders are on autopilot when it comes to sustainability. So how do we override it? For me, there are three ways to course-correct.

1. Redefine ‘sustainability’A closer look across Europe:

It’s high time for business to modernise its definition of sustainability. For many it’s still synonymous with a vague intention to be ‘green’ through low effort, low impact corporate tick box initiatives. This has to change.

True sustainability is about delivering a long-term, dedicated approach to business – where social, environmental and economic value meet to create shared benefits. This means taking real accountability and appreciating that building a sustainable company (in all senses of the word) is the blueprint for success. Confining your business to an outdated definition of sustainability is not only shortsighted, it’s potentially fatal.

2. Match ambition with action

While external sustainability credentials might satisfy consumers on a surface-level, it’s critical to back-up claims with actions. A recent survey revealed that 81% of people feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment. It’s never been more important for businesses to truly live the values they promote.

So we agree it’s time to change behaviour and not just talk about it. But what does that look like? Leaders must hold suppliers and customers to their own sustainability standards. They should also focus on redesigning products and rewiring processes to reduce lifecycle emissions, not just waste. Ultimately though, it’s about embedding an environmental sustainability mindset.

I’m proud that Ricoh has long been at the forefront of this type of action-led sustainability. Take the Comet Circle – our circular economy model. For over 25 years, we’ve been reusing parts and recycling materials within the business and across our supplier network. More businesses need to match their internal processes to their external promises.

3. Recognise sustainability as critical to survival

The United Nations set the economic agenda for the next ten years, making the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) strategically essential to all businesses, governments and NGOs. But of course setting targets isn’t about putting numbers down on paper, it’s about defining ambitious goals that mark an intended direction of travel. Yet business is split on the topic, quite literally. Only half of businesses have identified priority SDGs.

As our global CEO Jake Yamashita candidly declared during Climate Week last year: “Any company that doesn’t contribute to the achievement of the SDGs will be ignored by the market and will go out of business.”

So why do leaders continue to succumb to the demand for short-term results and quick-win profits? Because battling against short-term thinking isn’t easy. It might mean sacrificing profits, relinquishing shareholder trust, and voyaging into the unknown. It’s the messy middle – and, let’s face it, uncertainty businesses could do without.

But if businesses don’t take urgent action now their success might be very short-lived. Environmental sustainability is no longer a competitive differentiator, it’s essential to survival.

Two thirds of European workers expect employers to help solve societal issues

Industry News

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Two thirds of European workers expect employers to help solve societal issues

“Ricoh Europe report into the Future of Work explores how collaboration, purpose, sustainability and technology will shape employment in the next 10 years”

Ricoh Europe, London, 15 October 2019 – Workers are increasingly expecting their employers to contribute positively to societal issues, according to a new report released today by Ricoh Europe.

The Future of Work report, researched and produced by Arup, explores how technology will shape our jobs, with collaboration and sustainability at the core.

To employees, the onus is on employers to use the power of technology as a force for positive change at work and beyond. A supporting study of 3,000 European workers found that three quarters (74%) believe that as technology improves and automates tasks, employers must empower their staff to achieve better work-life balance. Additionally, close to two-thirds (63%) expect employers to harness profitability gains from automation technology to re-invest in its people and community.

Two thirds (65%) of European workers expect their employers to be part of the solution for societal issues such as climate change and inequality. Additionally, 28% would be willing to take a 10% pay cut to work for an employer that was committed to helping solve societal issues.

However, the majority of workers are sceptical of their employer’s intentions. Two thirds (65%) believe their employers will use automated technology to increase profits and cut jobs.

David Mills, CEO, Ricoh Europe comments: “Through cloud computing, artificial intelligence, mixed reality and robotics, there is a vast array of technology that will change the way we work over the next 10 years. Organisations must make smart decisions and adopt the right technology for their needs, but technology is not a magic bullet or replacement for your human workers – they remain vital to the workforce of the future.

“Collaboration and sustainability must be at the centre of a modern business. People are looking to employers to set an example and make more positive contributions to the communities in which they operate. Collaboration is key to tackling the big issues that we are grappling with in modern society – it cannot be left to not-for-profits or governments. Those businesses that plug technology benefits into the community will thrive and attract the best talent. At Ricoh, we believe the best route to achieving this is through aligning our work with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

The Future of Work report analyses more than 100 sources, to bring together the best-in-class thinking and use cases on how work will shape employment. It finds that technology will fuel new modes of collaboration between humans, human and machines and machines with other machines (automation).

It concludes that automation and technology is driving the business agenda, but it finds that the role of humans in work will remain vital for businesses to operate sustainably. Technology will ultimately free workers from laborious tasks to focus on more valuable and fulfilling work and enable businesses to reinvest into making more positive contributions to society.

A closer look across Europe:

  Gains from technology should be reinvested to improve work-life balance Employers need to play a role to solve societal issues such as climate change or inequality Employers should use the benefits of technology to reinvest in the community and its people Employers will use automation technology to increase profits and cut jobs
UK 71 % 51 % 51 % 68 %
France 72 % 70 % 62 % 68 %
Germany 78 % 66 % 67 % 63 %
Italy 74 % 68 % 71 % 62 %
Spain 80 % 68 % 76 % 73 %
Netherlands 70 % 67 % 51 % 58 %

Learn more about the importance of putting sustainability and people first in the Future of Work by downloading the full report here.

For more information please visit www.ricoh-europe.com.

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