Andrew Winston is one of the most widely read writers on sustainable business in the world, with regular columns in Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Management Review. His latest book, Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More than They Take (co-authored with renowned CEO Paul Polman), is one of Financial Times’ Best Business Books of the Year. Andrew’s views on strategy have been sought after by many of the world’s leading companies, including 3M, DuPont, HP, J&J, Unilever and has appeared in major media such as Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, Time, BusinessWeek, New York Times, and CNBC. In this episode, Andrew discusses the need for business leaders to have courage in expressing their values, the need for increased ambition in the sustainability arena and much more.
Have the courage to speak your values:
Not saying something is saying something. For example, the decision by Target to give into anti-LGBTQ pressures negatively impacted LGBTQ employees and their allies. Speaking out for what you believe in may result in people being angry but that comes with progress (e.g., people were angry when schools were integrated in the U.S. in the 1960’s). Collective courage where you gather allies and make a statement together can help; for example, Disney could have grabbed 50 companies in Florida to join in opposing the ‘don’t say gay’ bill.
Need to, have to, want to pursue sustainability:
Most business leaders are on board with sustainability and see that it can enhance business performance, except for the oil & gas sector. Business leaders have three levels of motivation: 1) ‘Need to’ relates to the climate imploding creating a burning platform for action. 2) ‘Have to’ relates to the need to follow increased regulation or voluntary standards required by investors. 3) ‘Want to’ is the business case for sustainability. For more on this, visit Andrew's website.
Influence requires both heart and mind:
You can’t usually change someone’s mind about sustainability with data alone; you need to influence both heart and mind. For example, when business leaders talk to their kids it can shift their perspective.
Views on the term ESG won’t change the work:
CEO of Coca-Cola James Quincey put it well when he said something to the effect of… ‘If ESG becomes toxic as a phrase, it doesn’t matter to me. It just means I’m going to stop saying ESG. My business strategy is constant and clear and centered around the business and things that consumers care about and that fix societal problems. If you want to put a label on it, that’s your problem.”
ESG principles have long term relevance:
While it’s impossible to predict the future, there are three main driving forces creating enduring momentum for ESG/sustainability in business. First, millennials and Gen Z understand climate and gay rights, for example, and this isn’t going to change. Second, the clean economy is coming on fast and market share of renewables is big enough to establish its own momentum. Finally, unfortunately the climate is getting worse with floods and fires intensifying impacts that will be increasingly difficult to ignore.