BUSINESS

5 Questions For Business Leaders Who Believe In A Sustainable Revolution

"We have an obligation to make the world a better place for generations to come."

What do a prominent Californian Internet entrepreneur, an international trade union boss and an African business leader have in common?

They have come together to join The B Team, a business-led movement aiming to redefine the role of business in society.

Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce, Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, and Bob Collymore, CEO of Kenyan-based mobile operator Safaricom, have made a commitment to showcase how business can lead in areas ranging from climate change and corruption, to workplace well-being and meeting the new sustainable development goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations.

Benioff will work with other B Team members, such as Sir Richard Branson and Arianna Huffington, on developing the organization's "100% Human at Work" initiative, which is focusing on employee wellness, increasing diversity and ensuring equality and fair pay.

Burrow, who represents around 180 million workers in 162 countries, will join forces with Collymore as well as Paul Polman, CEO of the consumer products multinational Unilever, on a new initiative to galvanize business action to achieve the 17 SDGs outlined by the U.N.

Polman, a founding member of the B Team, on Thursday described the SDGs as providing "us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fight poverty, preserve our ecosystems and alleviate human suffering. These issues are inextricably linked. While the moral case for action is clear -- so, too, is the business case. We need more business leaders to champion the global goals, and the hard work must begin now.” 

The Huffington Post sent all three new B Team members a questionnaire to find out why they have decided to stand up and be counted on the issue of sustainability and how they plan to embed change.

You can read the responses from Collymore and Burrow below. While Benioff declined to take part, he did say in a statement that “every company must serve the interests of all stakeholders, not just shareholders, but also their customers, employees, communities and the environment. We have an obligation to make the world a better place for generations to come." 

1) As a leader, what can you contribute to solving the sustainability challenges of our age?

Bob Collymore: I have discovered that to actually drive change, you must be the one who is not afraid to lead where no one else has gone -- not necessarily because you have a better understanding of what needs to be done, but because it can be harder for others to take the same step. So I have committed myself to being ready to be the first one to take that step. 

I also believe that trying to resolve all of the sustainability challenges of our age is unrealistic. Pinpointing focus on a small number of the most pressing challenges that will influence the way we live and do business in our region is more effective. Only then can we work together to create workable and sustainable solutions to those challenges.

Sharan Burrow: Climate action to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees or less is an imperative, just as it is to ensure we live within planetary boundaries. Equally, the social base of a just world needs to be renovated to ensure both zero carbon and zero poverty. With 180 million members worldwide, my work as the general secretary of the ITUC is to work to ensure that governments act and that there is the social dialogue between employers and workers that is essential to realize this transformation of our economies is a just transition.

2) What are you personally committed to doing in your own life to showcase what is possible?

BC: By demanding responsibility from myself, from my team, from my company, from my peers. That means working more transparently, making everyone accountable and demanding responsibility from our entire supply chain so that we all share the same commitment to sustainability.

I am committed to creating the foundations for a sustainability movement among African corporates that will catapult this discussion to the forefront of their awareness. This is not an individual effort. Strength is gained by gathering support from like-minded individuals to be part of a wide community who are united by a common goal to work toward a sustainable future.

SB: The focus of my professional life is dedicated to sustainability, equality and decent work. The ITUC frontlines are eliminating slavery; realizing rights, just wages and safe and secure work in supply chains; and fighting for a zero-carbon, zero-poverty world. Our core values are peace, democracy and social justice.

3) How will you embed change within your own organization and how will you measure success?

BC: Safaricom is making some progress toward embedding sustainability into its day-to-day operations. We are about to publish our third annual sustainability report, where we examine every facet of our business and track how we perform against globally recognized standards for accountability. So far, we have found that our willingness to be open and transparent about our operations and our proactive approach to sustainability reporting is an additional assurance to our shareholders and our wider business ecosystem beyond the more traditional business reporting.

SB: When the rule of law demands corporations respect workers' rights, when all governments and employers have a business plan for decarbonisation, jobs, skills and related investment for a just transition, and when all migrants have the right to work with other vital economic and social rights, we will see a pathway to success.

4) How will you leverage your influence within your own networks to create a movement of change?

BC: As we address some of the biggest sustainability issues that we face in Africa, I believe the business community can accomplish the most significant results. As a member of the U.N. Global Compact Africa strategy team, I have worked to embed the concept of corporate sustainability in Africa in order to promote more responsible business practices across the continent. Alongside a growing cohort of like-minded peers, we are already seeding the concept of sustainable business practices amongst our partners in corporate Kenya, and we are seeing traction among some of the more forward-thinking organizations who have put in place tangible milestones such as annual sustainability reporting or who have made commitments to long-term interventions.

SB: The recent trade union climate summit saw 250 leaders from 60 nations commit to fight for decarbonisation of our economies and a just transition in the quest for climate justice. Workers and their unions know there are "no jobs on a dead planet."

5) What has made you want to stand up and publicly be seen to care about issues of sustainability?

BC: Working in Africa -- which is very rich in resources but at same time can be quite poor in their management -- has definitely catalyzed my belief that there can be no future for any business if it does not move beyond immediate outputs to long-term outcomes. Businesses need to create a long-term view that shifts how we view success from immediate profits to becoming agents of change that can both manage the growing needs of an increasing number of stakeholders while providing sustainable solutions to big issues like food security or water scarcity.

CB: As a teacher by trade and a trade union leader for more than 30 years, change has been a constant feature of our lives. The science tells us the future we face without climate action -- so no one has a choice to ignore the fact that humanity has a rendezvous with itself.

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