Perspective: Many new perspectives are open to companies committed to sustainability

A question of perspective

The topic of sustainability is so multi-faceted that we should look at it from different angles. In this part of ceo, we hope to encourage you to adopt new perspectives, question the tried and tested, and innovate with a view to the future. We’ll inevitably need to take up new positions on this, as humans now consume 60% more resources each year than the Earth is able to provide.1

This makes the future a corporate respon­sibility. The goal of economic actors worldwide must be to do business in an economic, ecological, social and forward-looking way, as it’s the only way we can support the climate goals of our country and of international communities. This is the only way we can offer current and future generations a perspective.

1 Report von WWF und PwC: Kreislaufwirtschaft als Chance für die Wirtschaft, PwC Switzerland, 2021

Fairness wins

Fair trade uses some interesting mechan­isms in this regard. Producers receive a minimum price for their products, which is set by a fair trade organisation. Well-known names include Fairtrade, Flower Label Program and Max Havelaar. A remarkable example of how the concept has successfully evolved can be seen with the Lucerne-based family business Gübelin. Its first-ever provenance proof blockchain allows all steps in the supply chain for precious stones to be traced. This creates maximum transparency with regard to the provenance of jewels for the global jewellery industry. Fair trade requires a change in the way companies and consumers think.

“Many new perspectives are open to companies committed to sustainability.”

When the circle closes

A similar change in perspective is called for by the circular economy. This is shifting from the current linear ‘make-consume-throw-away’ approach to a regenerative closed loop of recyclables and resources. Anyone operating in a circular manner uses the available resources more economically and reduces their systemic risks such as dependencies on operating resources. The circular economy is also strengthening the resilience of the economy and society, and paving the way for new markets, forms of innovation and investments.

Circularity as a business model envisages four strategies:2 the closing of material and energy loops (e.g. by recycling used raw materials as far as possible), slowing down (e.g. by extending product lifecycles), reducing (e.g. by producing more energy efficiently) and restoring (e.g. by making greater use of renewable resources).

2 Circularity as the new normal: Future fitting Swiss businesses, WWF and PwC Switzerland, 2021

Bio meets the economy

Bioeconomic innovation is also very much nature-oriented. It’s driving the shift away from an oil-based economy towards the use of biological resources such as plants, animals and microorganisms – similar to green energy in electricity production. New active and valuable materials are being created from previously unused residues, for example. Examples of bioeconomic innovation abound: green algae used to produce a red dye, bioinformatics to analyse viral mutations and yeast to produce bioethanol. Another is a wood-like building material made from coconut shell – the brainchild of Swiss cleantech company NaturLoop.

One company, many perspectives

Many new perspectives are open to companies committed to sustainability. For example, those committed to sustainable sourcing are driving the integration of social, ethical and environmental performance factors in supplier selection. Using impact investing,3 a company aims to promote positive impact on the environment or society or to attract outside capital for its sustainable business activities. To do so, it must raise its profile based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria, collect the right data and expand its disclosures.

Another option is to lead or contribute to the paradigm shift towards focusing on a positive goal. To achieve this, companies must establish integrated sustainable management and assume a thought leadership and pioneering role and topic leadership in sustainability areas, for example with regard to mobility, construction or quality of life. One such case is English football club Forest Green Rovers, which is the first climate neutral football club in the world.

3 ESG – Game Changer aus strategischer und regulatorischer Sicht, PwC Investmentforum, PwC Germany, 2020

Interviews with people

There are many ways of adopting a new perspective. The three interviewees below show how and why they’ve questioned tried-and-tested methods and approached the issue of sustainability in a new way. Electricity producer Alpiq is focusing on green energy. NIKIN produces fair and sustainable fashion and plants a tree for every product sold. And in the double interview on sustainable finance, Falko Paetzold and Tillmann Lang talk about sustainable financial services and how they’re helping clients to invest in clean energy or equality.