Corporate CEO Weighs In on Sustainability With Advice for His Peers, NGOs, Government

It’s good to hear from corporate CEOs on sustainability issues, and especially relevant when a CEO offers advice to his peers based on his own experience and values.  Mads Nipper, Group President & CEO of the Illinois-based Grundfus Pump Corporation, attended the UN Global Compact meeting in New York City and offered his perspective on the influential Huffington Post platform.

CEO Nipper sees the collaboration of corporate leaders, government leaders and NGOs as critical to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) out to the target year of 2030.  His own enterprise is focused on SDG 6 and 13 because (he explained) clean water and sanitation is critical to advancing human health and safety.  Nipper’s company products are focused on clean water and waste water solutions and so the SDGs are important elements of strategy-setting.

The CEO points out that 600 million-plus Planet Earth residents lack access to clean (and safe) drinking water and 2.4 billion – one third of the planet’s population – lacks adequate water sanitation.  Yes, this is a marketing opportunity to the Grundfas enterprise, but embracing of the SDGs (goals and objectives) is also among the key imperatives driving strategy.  “Sustainability is a Mind Set” is his essay title.  You see the company’s products address water supply and water sanitation challenges, in commercial and residential settings. And so, climate change (with floods occurring more often in many more settings) and water control is a critical mission for building owners and managers – and for society.

CEO Mads Nipper explains this in his Huff Post commentary (see link below), written in the setting of the gathering of global leaders in New York City to discuss (among other things) the SDGs and impact of these 17 goals/169 targets on the business community.

G&A’s own Louis Coppola attended the UNGC Leaders Summit at the United Nations last week and he adds that one of the most inspiring speakers at the event came from a 16 year old named Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez, of the “Earth Guardians,” who was first recognized by the US government for action on Climate, and is now suing the US government for not doing enough to curb climate change for his generation.

You can watch this inspiring young leader’s speeches and learn more about Earth Guardian’s here:

If you’re interested in learning more about how G&A Institute can assist your organization to create a strategy around the SDGs please contact us at

Sustainability is a Mindset
(Wednesday – June 22, 2016)
Source: Huff Post – Sustainability cannot be limited to a single department in a company, words in a glossy report, or on a poster on the wall. It should be the focal point in every business’ purpose.

CSOs – CROs – On the Rise in Corporate America… Which Way is Forward in These Key Titles?

Sometimes the “chief” whatever is enduring (as in Chief Financial Officer/CFO) and sometimes the chief position is fleeting (Chief Strategy Officer was the rage in the 1980s).  We are heartened by the relatively rapid rise of the new chieftains in Corporate America – the “CSO” (Chief Sustainability Officer).  The duties and organizing principles for this office are still being worked out.

Does the CSO report up to the C-Suite (to CEO)?  Do they have access to board room?  Are they somewhere “down below,” like the fellows in the steamship boiler room who keep the big boat moving but are not on the bridge with the officers in white suits.  Are they in the middle – reporting up to the CEO but through another “chief.” (Direct report to CFO is often the line up for some CSOs.)

We’ve seen cases where the sustainability team is headed by the CEO in some structure, and the CSO is the critical influence in the team setting, alongside the CEO.  European models are different from the U.S. corporate structure.  The CEO is less king and more first among slightly-lesser-equals (at least in influence).

There is a trend in place (and has been for about a decade) with large public companies and some mid-caps and small-caps appointing the CSO.  The position is a connection point for a growing range of collaborators (internal and external).  Subject matter experts (SMEs) and content owners inside don’t report to the CSO but do feed data, narrative, background information on an informal and formal basis (this is especially important for the company’s sustainability reporting).

Where are we in this evolving business trend (appointing CSOs)?  Our story this week is from CR (Corporate Responsibility) Magazine – “The Growing Influence of the CSO,” by author Susan Hunt Stevens (CEO of WeSpire, an employee engagement platform for companies).  It’s a nice perspective on the origination and growth of the CSO function.

One aspect of all of this that we at G&A Institute monitor is the parallel development, the appointment of Chief Corporate Responsibility Officers (CROs).  What are the duties of the CSO and CRO… differences… similarities… paths forward (and upwards on the corporate ladder)?  Why do some companies title efforts “sustainability” and others, “responsibility” and even “citizenship” (like GE and American Airlines)?  Will these come closer together and merge?  Will there be separate job descriptions and expectations (of the “chiefs” by the top echelon “chiefs”)?  Stay Tuned!

The Growing Influence Of The Chief Sustainability Officer
(Thursday – June 16, 2016)
Source: CR Magazine – the country’s first chief sustainability officer (CSO) was appointed in 2004. Since then, the position has rapidly evolved as companies, employees, investors, and partners continue to recognize the value of sustainability and…

Think Big & Bold — Think Grand Vision: Embrace Sustainability As “America’s Grand Strategy?”

Does the United States of America have a “grand strategy” in this second decade of the 21st Century?  Henry Luce, publisher of Time magazine, famously labeled the 20th Century “the American Century,” in recognition of the nation’s leadership in world affairs, military power, economic & financial power, cultural dominance, and more.  So what is the definition for this new century and what should the nation’s “grand strategy” be (in practical terms)?

The exploration of the questions and answered provided by a team of deep thinkers makes for a very fascinating story, and provides policy makers and all of us with a vision of where we might/should be going as the leader of the free world in an often very dangerous neighborhood (Planet Earth).

The question was posed by then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who in 2009 was concerned that the USA did not have a grand vision for the future — not only military, but also industrial, economic, political and more. His subordinates, US Marine Corps Colonel Mark “Puck” Mykleby and US Navy Captain Wayne Porter set out their thoughts in a document — “The National Strategic Narrative.”  S-l-o-w-l-y, the narrative made its way around the Pentagon and Washington power circles.  National public prominence came as such thought leaders as The New York Timescolumnist Tom Friedman voiced his favorable comments.

Of importance to you, our dear newsletter reader:  The #1 national strategic imperative for the 21st Century:  Sustainability!  Over many months the original team moved on and was joined by other powerful voices.  Three authors — Colonel Mykleby (who with Patrick Doherty co-created Case Western University’s Strategic Innovation Lab), and Joel Makower, CEO of Greenbiz, have a new book out that brings the powerful story of the narrative (and its content) to us:  “The New Grand Strategy: Restoring America’s Prosperity, Security and Sustainability in the 21st Century” — published this month by St. Martin’s Press.

Notes GreenBiz in it our Top Story this week:  The book tells the story of a grand strategy, born within the Pentagon, to recapture America’s greatness at home and abroad by elevating sustainability as a strategic imperative. It aligns America’s enduring national interests of prosperity and security with a new framework that blurs the lines between domestic and foreign policy by addressing pressing economic, security, political, social and environmental issues at home, and looking at how those issues impact and connect with the global community.

The journey of the book from Pentagon conversation to greater public attention — we might say against the odds — is in capsule form in the Top Story.  Much more is available to us in the new book.

What is encouraging is that “sustainability” is seen as a national imperative and the pathway to the future for the USA in the 21st Century. We shouldn’t fail as a People to embrace the vision presented to us by the three authors!

Why sustainability should be America’s ‘grand strategy’
(Thursday June 09, 2016)
Source: GreenBiz – Suddenly, the pieces fit together: a military strategist, a policy strategist and a sustainable business strategist who arrived at a similar vision from different disciplines, perspectives, political leanings, even generations

G&A Institute’s Report on Sustainable Brands 2016 — Theme: Finding new ways to activate purpose

By Selene Lawrence, Sustainability Reports Analyst, Governance & Accountability Institute

This past week, the national and international community of sustainability practitioners and enthusiasts convened for the 10th annual Sustainable Brands (SB) conference in San Diego. What took place among palm trees and beaches was not like any conference we normally attend to network, learn, and occasionally workshop. SB is a living breathing hub for activation– the activation of purpose, as was this year’s theme, but also the activation of inspiration, potential, and of the power of community.

This year’s theme of “activating purpose” resonated in every panel, from purposeful branding and partnerships, to finding purpose in one’s industry and the players within. There was the evolving purpose of incentive and risk, and certification and international frameworks. We also learned about the purpose of SB in San Diego, where we explored the most fitting place for a meeting on sustainable innovation and practice.

A resounding theme was the transformation from viewing sustainability practice as a risk mitigation tactic, to instead as opportunity for growth. In posing the questions, “What if sustainability acted as brand value creation?” and “What if consumers could be heroes of the future and not just commodities to extract profit?” we found that purpose and profit are more often linked than separate.

Novozymes, a leader in the biotech industry, proved that aligning business with the UN Sustainable Development Goals is not only preventative, but opportune, as it pushes businesses to look towards sustainable alternatives in their innovation pipeline that will provide competitive edge in the globalized landscape of realized SDG goals in the coming decade. Related to this was the topic of investor expectations. Through examples, we learned that we are far from the days when investors did not find sustainability relevant or worthwhile as a business strategy.

Today, 75% of investors believe that sustainability is material to investment decisions, and 60% stated they would divest from poor sustainability performers. Yet only 24% of IR professional believe it is important to their investors. It is a disconnect and misconception that poses a new risk, and also a new opportunity for companies.

To the point of bringing awareness to the IR professional, unlocking the power of sustainability as a growth agent in your company means unlocking it from the CSR department. A common thread among panelists from 3M to Walmart was allowing sustainability to permeate all departments from Investor Relations, to Marketing and employees on the floor.

At 3M, sustainability is now a part of every employee’s performance appraisal. Coca-Cola shared that only 20% of marketers that are aware of sustainability (which is an additional lower number in itself) actually use it in their strategy. Speaking in their language is crucial. To reach IR it may require switching your pitch to an Excel language (detail, data, predictability) rather than your big-picture Powerpoint vision.  For Coca-Cola marketers, it required filtering sustainability priorities to key campaigns that tied in directly to the brand’s original mission and purpose. But of course, purpose has to be established first.

The best advice at SB? Businesses and organizations should look to their mission to find purpose. How your sustainability initiatives or products resonate with consumers and the public depends on its authenticity, which means its direct connection to your purpose as a brand. Aria Finger, CEO of gave us the run-down on the millenial consumer, advising that they value transparancy and honesty, not perfection, the most. Therefore, sticking to an issue that is core to your brand, not just a hot-topic, is crucial. She also shared that failure in the pursuit of an honest product or campaign is more commendable (and may even be profitable if manipulated in the right way) than perfection in something that has little connection to purpose and mission.

Prioritizing what you want to tackle, (i.e water, poverty) not only requires a materiality analysis looking at stakeholder importance and business reputation, but also requires prioritizing what to exclude, what to  practice internally, what to carry over externally, and what to fight for.

One of the most interesting insights of SB  was the presence of the city it took place in. During the event there was a learning process about the City of San Diego, which is not often mentioned as a champion of sustainability, but is currently making some of the most aggressive and admirable commitments to a sustainable future.

We learned about the legally binding climate plan that will transform the city to 100% renewable energy by 2035, in addition to strong zero waste and sustainable transit initiatives. In an effective example of partnership we witnessed the city’s utility, public agency infrastructures like the San Diego Airport, and the city itself aligning under the common goal for a more healthy, livable, and ultimately sustainable city for it’s residents. Expect to add San Diego to your list of cities like Aspen and Copenhagen in the coming years.

On the last day, we were asked for 30 seconds of silence to think about the most important takeaways we would bring with us when we returned back to our respective homes, offices, and life-missions. I sat and thought of every open, smiling person I had connected with, from marketing managers and biomass engineers to consultants and advisors (like me) and realized how there wasn’t a single conversation in which there was  lack of common ground. We all were able to speak in one way or another around our shared culture, which…sure, is of sustainability, but also is of awareness and a common consciousness about our responsibility to the planet. And if we could make that common culture accessible to the rest of the world,  that was the real take-away.

Doing Well by Doing Good – Novozymes’ Head of Sustainability Explains How and Why

One of the corporate sustainability journeys that we point out in our conversations with corporate managers is Novozymes, the Danish biotech company.  The “do well by doing good” global business enterprise has an interesting history and a rich legacy of addressing societal challenges.  Today, Novozymes leverages its technologies to address “challenges and solutions” in various industries and sectors (including energy, agriculture, pharma products, chemicals, and more).

The company’s head of sustainability — Claus Stig Pedersen — authored an interesting commentary on the Huffington Post platform:  “Business as a Force For Good.”  It’s a solid read for company managers whose firm is embarked on the sustainability journey, and especially for those managers working to assemble the resources to begin the journey.

When the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were in draft form and nearing completion, the Novozymes team was already adopting certain of the goals and applying them to the business model.  Author Pedersen notes in his commentary: “With all the global challenges today, we need more companies to rethink tomorrow.  How can they better drive their business using the new SDGs as a guide?  What impacts will this have on society and their bottom line?

His answer:  Look at the sweet spot where people, planet and profit interconnect and deliver solutions for better lives in a growing world.  In 2014, Novozymes used the draft goals (there are 17 in all with 169 targets) as inspiration when developing its new long-term strategy and company purpose.   You can check out highlights of the Novozymes approach online.  And be sure to read the head of sustainability’s comments in our Top Story.

The G&A Institute team is working with corporate clients to help the executive team and managers understand the critical nature of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and to adopt selective SDGs that fit the company’s mission as important and integral elements of the corporate sustainability (or responsibility or citizenship) efforts.  G&A EVP Lou Coppola is working with the Global Sourcing Council to educate and inform supply chain managers of the importance of the SDGs (in the global supply network) – let him know if you would like more information on that effort:

Business-Driven Sustainability Will Change the World
(Thursday – June 02, 2016)
Source: Huff Post – With more than 80% of S&P 500 companies now issuing a corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability report (according to the Governance & Accountability Institute), sustainability is becoming business mainstream.