Changing the world through sustainable business

Sustainable Brands was launched in 2006 by KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz. Her goal was to build a community of professionals in the business world who were interested in innovation and sustainability. On April 27-28, IESE’s Center for Business in Society (CBS), as academic partner, hosted one of her conferences, in which presenters and companies explored the concept of sustainability beyond many people’s perception, showing that it encompasses far more. This approach reinforces the idea that it brings value to businesses and society.

These are the three key concepts: Reimagine, Redesign and Regenerate, which the idea of Sustainable Brands revolves around and which serve to deepen the direct impact it can have on companies and, therefore, on society.

A. Reimagine: Changing the way we make decisions

Sustainability is, first of all, an opportunity to reimagine, or change our decision-making processes . Sustainability is not merely “moving things around.” More importantly, it is about introducing new variables into decision processes; realizing that in the company’s value chain we can introduce more than just strictly economic variables, including social, environmental, and ethical criteria in decision processes. Sustainability permeates all areas of the company, as each one can reimagine its functions and tasks.

We could fall into the trap of thinking this is only for small companies, outsiders that “can afford to be different.” However, there is a growing consensus that it is also the responsibility of large enterprises, who “cannot afford the luxury” of being excluded from this new dynamic. Small companies may take the lead in innovation, but their larger counterparts bring scalability and therefore help to establish this social trend to a certain degree.

B. Redesign: innovation in processes, policies and products

Secondly, it is an opportunity to redesign. Sustainability by necessity leads to innovation, because by introducing different decision criteria, things end up being done in different ways. Sustainability leads to innovation in products, processes and policies.

Products get redesigned, and although they sometimes may not appear to differ from the old ones—or even be perceived as different by consumers—they feature new materials or were produced by a particular social group that benefits as a result. Innovation also leads to the redesign of production processes, such as the case of the circular economy, or policies engendering different relationships with other stakeholders.

At a Junction. Source: Flickr/Lloyd Morgan

C. Regenerate: a new paradigm for the enterprises

The third level leads us to regenerate the nature and function of the enterprise in society. It is not just a question of thinking or acting differently: It’s about being different. Reflection on sustainability inspires us toward reflection on the purpose of the enterprise. “System innovators,” which are vital for sustainability, cannot also be “profit maximizers.”

We need an apropos business model for the social changes and trends of the 21st century. Ideas such as those emerging from the collaborative economy or from B corporations are posing a challenge to the dominant business model, coming up with realistic and viable alternatives.

We all need one another to get past the challenges

The serious problems facing our world—environmental issues (access to water, clean energy, pollution, etc.), as well as social matters (i.e., unemployment, forced migration due to economic or political reasons, ideological or religious persecutions, populations ravaged by hunger or war)—require coordinated action from all of society’s stakeholders. Only if we have the involvement of companies, governments and society can we move forward in building a more sustainable world. There is no real sustainability without solidarity.

Therefore, as we are often reminded by KoAnn Skrzyniarz, it is a journey that we must make, uniting our efforts along the way.