Models of successful collaboration for scaling up business sustainability programs exist, but more companies need to be educated about them.
By Isabelle Gayral, Ecolaboration Manager, Nespresso International
Among the CSR community there’s a growing confidence that sustainable business practices are becoming mainstream. But are we being blinkered in this belief?
Perhaps our frame of reference is too narrow.
Because we predominantly mix with like-minded people in similar positions, do we overlook concerns of other stakeholders -- in particular those of the conservation community?
At the recent IUCN World Conservation Congress, sustainable business management was a key focus. While there were some shining examples of businesses driving the sustainability movement, there was a definite feeling that more needs to be done.
Nespresso was a congress partner, presenting at, and participating in, a number of business focused workshops alongside NGOs, certification organisations and conservation institutes. In almost all sessions a common theme was roadblocks to scaling up business sustainability. Here we share some of the perceived problems and proposed solutions…
Barriers to Scaling Up Sustainability
Flora and Fauna International conducted a survey among IUCN members and corporate partners on the subject. Respondents were predominantly businesses and NGOs with some participation from academia (and tellingly, very little from government organizations).
Seventy percent of participants cited a weak business case as the major limiting factor. Absence of sustainability focus in government policies, lack of value given to ecosystems, and lack of business knowledge on the importance of biodiversity were all seen as limitations by about 50 percent of respondents.
So it appears that business practitioners, as well as NGOs, are aware of failings within their organizations.
Ending The Blame Game
But it’s not just a one-way street. Rainforest Alliance and the IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) recognise that barriers can come from the conservation community too. We heard them admit that too much energy has been put into the “blame game,” holding the private sector to account instead of trying to find solutions.
Conservationists can be very cynical but there are many examples of businesses with a genuine commitment to give back to society. CEESP asked the community to celebrate these pioneers and encourage those that are willing to try – in the hope that this will stimulate more organisations to commit.
A Decade Of Experience At Nespresso
In 2003 Nespresso launched the AAA Sustainable Quality™ Programme in collaboration with the Rainforest Alliance. The program offers coffee farmers support, training and technical assistance to improve quality, sustainability and productivity. Today long term partnerships with almost 50,000 participating coffee farmers have tangible benefits across our business.
But we have encountered numerous roadblocks along the way, many of which were discussed at the IUCN congress.
1. Measuring Impact – Where to Start?
Limited time and resource often means it’s counterproductive to focus on every single impact throughout your supply chain. Better to concentrate on optimizing areas where you have the most significant impact. But identifying these “hotspots” is no mean feat.
Since 2005, we have been using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to understand the environmental performance of our product life cycle against five key indicators: climate change, water footprint, biodiversity, human health and energy. It showed us our biggest impacts come from end use and coffee growing, so we focus on sustainable agriculture, developing high-performing energy efficient machines and collecting used capsules for recycling.
2. Making the Business Case
Fortunately the importance of sustainability is recognized at the highest levels in Nespresso. But it’s not driven solely by altruism; it is core to our business success. As with many agriculturally focused businesses, we are totally dependant on the ecosystems where our product is produced. To protect the future of the highest quality coffees we needed to secure the livelihoods of the farmers that grow them and the health of the environment they work in. If ecosystem degradation could put you out of business, senior staff have to sit up and take notice.
The eco-conscious consumer also plays a big part. We have seen a significant increase in brand advocacy among customers who are aware of our sustainability program. More and more, customers aren’t asking for sustainable products; they expect them.
3. Supply Chain Dependencies
No business operates in isolation. For a sustainability program to be successful, all actors in the supply chain need to be aligned. This presents difficulties – for businesses who don’t wield any purchasing power over producers, or for those trying to change practices that have been in place for many years.
In one IUCN congress workshop, collaboration and communication were highlighted as the most important factors for success. Communicating the benefits to stakeholders, particularly producers, takes time and patience, and support from community influencers.
Collaborations along supply chain verticals combine influence and experience to create a powerful force for good. Nespresso has recently launched an Aluminium Stewardship Initiative with Rio Tinto and the IUCN to define a responsible aluminium standard - a unique collaboration between an end user business, an environmental organization and a mining company
4. Conservationist Misconceptions
The private sector has long been seen as the foe of conservation, but exploring the synergies between business and NGO missions can lead to successful partnerships. “Shared value” is at the core of Nespresso’s sustainability program and certification organizations like Rainforest Alliance can help bridge the gap. Businesses need to show NGOs that they have a legitimate concern for the sustainability of the landscapes and communities they depend upon for their supplies.
The Way Forward for Sustainable Development?
There isn’t one clear solution to scale up business sustainability, but Flora and Fauna International’s survey revealed education – of the public and the business – to be a driving factor. Government action was also hailed as a necessary input but there is little confidence this will come to fruition.
From our perspective, working in partnership, with institutes, NGOs, certification organizations and producers has allowed us to progress despite the obstacles. We encourage everyone else to follow the same path.
About the Author:
Isabelle Gayral is the Ecolaboration Manager for Nespresso International, leading informational content to support the overall company communication on sustainability.