Sustainable Change

1. Please tell us a little bit about Concerto TIC. What is its specific mission and who does the company serve? Through Concerto TIC (The Impact Company) part of Augmentation X, our aim is to enable our partners future proof their business models by integrating impact performance indicators and impact communications within their strategies. We work with public and private organizations, ranging from startups, where our focus is social enterprises, SMEs and corporates and equip them with the knowledge and tools to maximize their performance by looking at their strategies through the lens of impact, in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals. At the core of Concerto TIC sits a thoroughly developed methodology which supports us bridge the knowledge gap between the current business as usual and sustainable, future-ready models.  

2. What made you decide to go into the field of sustainability? Despite the existence of a strong business case for sustainability, which clearly demonstrates the link to an organization’s financial performance, many business leaders often don’t have the in-house resources or knowledge to implement it. Moreover, sustainability is frequently interpreted differently with multiple terms and frameworks which often are not tailored based on the different business models. We knew that we had a unique opportunity to change the current ecosystem and so Mihaela Nina and I have brought to the table our combined experience in startups, SMEs and large corporations and expertise in business mechanics, commercial viability, revenue growth and sustainable impact. 

 3. Why is it so important for businesses to consider sustainability when it comes to their business practices? This actually is such an important aspect to address as historically sustainability has been associated with CSR initiatives, such as volunteering or donations, environmentalism like plastic use reduction or paperless offices, just to name a few. Although these are indeed some of the areas addressed by sustainability or ways in which an organization can drive sustainability, there is much more to it. A sustainable business is one which addresses all impact areas and aims to drive value for all it interacts with, which on the economic impact side means jobs creation, revenue generation, wages, GDP contribution for instance. It encompasses a solid governance structure that looks at the integrity and ethics of an organization and an analysis of risks and opportunities across the social and environmental impact areas, which can be health, well-being, basic needs, accessibility, inclusion, human rights, water scarcity, climate change, pollution, food waste. As per the why behind a sustainable business model, just take as an example the garments industry. If an organization has its final product manufactured in high-risk areas for unethical employee practices this will eventually come back and directly impact the business reputation and respectively brand equity. So besides just being the right thing to do, there is a clear link between business continuity and sustainability.  

4. What are some of the major trends you’re noticing in regards to business sustainability? Business sustainability is increasingly becoming part of the agenda of companies from all over the world, on one side with the pressure mounting up as we now have 10 years for the SDGs to be achieved and on the other hand as large corporations have demonstrated growth and performance as soon as they started to implement sustainability. If we look at some of the recent statistics, pre-COVID19, more than 71% of the sample interviewed organizations are planning to take action. Moreover, let’s not forget that the main catalyzer for this is coming from the consumers’ demand-side and again going back to statistics, more than 78% are considering sustainable products or services. We have a great example of the next-generation, for which impact and purpose are at the forefront of their decision, and with them becoming the purchasing power, organizations will need to adapt. 

5. What factors go into developing a corporate strategy for sustainability? If I were to summarize all aspects that support us construct a sustainability strategy, these are leadership, foundation and integration. Sustainability starts at the top and is cascaded within the culture of an organization, where everyone becomes part of this journey. Part of our role is to develop this sustainability culture within the organizations we work with. The foundation is then established on the basis of the businesses ambition and a principled analysis of the business model and value chain. This is a crucial step in ensuring the right framework and methodology is used to create a sustainability strategy. And lastly and the most complex stage is the integration through a tailored system which fits the respective organization. 

 6. How can a business incorporate a sustainable strategy that will ensure a major impact? For a comprehensive sustainability strategy that will evolve with the organization and support its performance, an organization needs to take a holistic approach across the entire value chain. Adding to this, the first step is to ensure the right measuring mechanism is in place in order to be able to identify the current impact, take the right actions and track its progress. Otherwise, it will be like saying that we want to achieve X in profits, but we have no commercial strategy, nor are we monitoring our expenses.  7. What are the common misconceptions that most businesses have about sustainability? I briefly touched on this in one of my previous answers and mentioned the CSR approach that has been adopted over the years. The challenge with CSR programs is that they normally are satellite to a business model and are mostly means of giving back, rather than sustainability which is supposed to be an integrated strategic approach. Another aspect is that with this, sustainability is often perceived as a marketing tool and although sustainability does connect you to your audience, we have seen plenty of claims which are unrealistic and only aim to position the organization in a good light. However, this has started to change over the past years, with conscious investors, entrepreneurs, professionals and consumers that have started to change the narrative and define the correct meaning of sustainability. 

 8. What does the future look like for sustainability among businesses, especially small businesses?  Sustainable business models are actually the future of businesses. The pace of change which we experience nowadays in terms of how the ecosystem looks at value creation and how businesses conduct themselves is exponential. If we look at organizations such as Unilever, Pepsi, Microsoft, but also in the investment and asset management world, they all are geared towards sustainable models. With this and with the consumers becoming more conscious in their decisions, the small businesses need to transition towards balancing and driving a positive impact on all areas, economic, social and environmental. Otherwise, they will be left behind as competitiveness will have at its core sustainability.  

9. In what ways do you believe sustainability will grow and develop in the region? In the region, we have a great model in which sustainable development is driven from the top. Take for instance the examples of the 2030 vision of both the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which have as main pillars sustainability and we have seen a tremendous leadership in driving them. If we add to this the consumer demand for sustainable products and services, and the employees seeking purposeful organizations, we then have a movement which urges businesses to take action. If 12-16 months ago, maybe 1 out of 5 individuals were interested to learn more about sustainability in relation to their business, nowadays this has become 1 out of 3 and I think in this region we stand a chance to reduce the number even more. If one year back, 1 out of 5 people were interested in finding more about this, now we see every person out of 3 is looking to better understand this system. This is also due to the efforts that the UAE has put into creating awareness on pushing the sustainability agenda and urging business to start taking action. With the SDGs coming into place in 2015, we have seen more and more sustainability adoption by companies.

10. What’s the best advice you could give business owners regarding business sustainability? Whether it is about stabilizing the current business performance or growing, look into sustainability and how it can enable your long-term vision. The right timing for this is now and the great part is that when you compare the initial cost to the outcomes of an integrated sustainability strategy, the ROI proves the business case. Even though sustainability is a complex world, organizations like Concerto TIC (The Impact Company) exist to offer support to organizations in establishing the right sustainability strategy.

Feature extracted from CEO Middle East Magazine, April 2020 edition

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