On March 14-15, 2022, more than 3,200 participants from 77 countries tuned in to EcoVadis’ Sustain conference, an annual meeting of industry experts and thought leaders focused on the intersection of sustainability and ESG with procurement, sourcing, and supply chains. Organized around the theme #DestinationImpact, the conference was replete with penetrating, original and provocative insights pertaining to all the most pertinent and complex sustainability issues confronting procurement leaders in an increasingly unpredictable world. This blog recaps five critical takeaways from the event.
1. The Time to Act is Now
If there was one thread that ran throughout all of the diverse discussions that comprised Sustain 2022, it was the imperative that businesses act urgently to confront the range of intersecting sustainability crises that are already impacting profoundly upon our planet and communities across the world. As Holly Elwood, a Senior Advisor on the Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), observed: “Climate change is upon us, we absolutely need to act as fast as possible and use all the tools in our toolbox to achieve progress. Procurement is a key tool.”
Indeed, coming just a week after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Working Group II report, the latest in a long line of publications that illustrate the urgent need for climate action, Elwood's perspective was reflected in the theme of the 2022 conference, #DestinationImpact. While impact remains an evolving and contested concept in the sustainability lexicon, in general terms, it is intended to shift the focus of business leaders away from ambition and targeting-setting and towards the production and disclosure of concrete, empirically measurable outcomes and results. As Uwe Schulte, Senior Advisor to the European Governance & Sustainability Center at the Conference Board, put it:
What do we mean by impact? It is not counting, for example, the number of supplier workshops you do – that’s just input. It doesn’t mean counting the supplier audits you do – that’s just output. What it means is permanent reduction of carbon footprint, or increasing the number of workers in your value chain that have a living wage; that, I call impact.
You can view the contributions of Holly Elwood and Uwe Schulte in full on the panel titled, 'Impact: Buzzword or Call for Action?' You can also learn more about how EcoVadis is helping companies engaged in the ratings network to achieve sustainable impact at scale in the EcoVadis Network Impact Report 2022.
2. Leverage Intergenerational Collaboration
Few of the challenges facing our planet and society crystallize the essential interconnectedness of humanity quite so vividly as the climate crisis. Just as no one business or government can tackle a complex, global issue such as rising CO2 levels or biodiversity loss in isolation from a broader, scalable coalition of like-minded actors, climate decisions taken (or not taken) by contemporary leaders necessarily entail profound consequences for future generations. For this reason, as Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever and author of Net Positive pointed out, it is time for business leaders “not only to give young people a seat at the table” when addressing sustainability issues, “but to actually give them the table” and empower them to influence policy.
Evelyn Acham, a passionate Ugandan-born climate justice activist and National Coordinator with the Rise Up Movement, eloquently elaborated this point in a panel discussion focused on ‘Turning the Tide on Climate Action’. “Leaving out the voices of people who are really experiencing the climate crisis, the people who are really on the frontline, is one of the biggest blockers to effective collaboration”, Acham stressed. “Intergenerational collaboration is key to achieving climate justice.”
Ester Galende-Sánchez, a Climate Policy Researcher at the Basque Center for Climate Change (BC3), echoed her colleague’s sentiment, stressing that “We need to start opening up decision making spaces for young people; we need more diversity….We need to build the idea that different generations can learn from one another in a bidirectional fashion, not just younger generations from adults.”
Evelyn Acham and Ester Galende-Sánchez (left to right, on screen) in conversation with EcoVadis' Co-CEOs, Pierre-François Thaler and Frédéric Trinel (seated), and Head of Sustainability Innovation, Julia Salant (standing), during Sustain 2022.
3. Adopt a Holistic Approach to Sustainability
Elaborating upon the intrinsic interconnectedness of different generations in combating the climate crisis, Acham further remarked perceptively upon the complex enmeshment of adverse social and environmental impacts that can arise from irresponsible business practice. “The climate crisis is interconnected; one crisis leads to another”, Acham observed. “The solutions are also not isolated. We cannot achieve gender equality or social justice without addressing the climate crisis.” In this context, Michelle Moore, Chief Procurement Officer at The Chemours Company, noted that sustainability must not be siloed in business strategy, or conceptualized as a narrow “departmental” competence, stressing that “it’s everyone’s job, everyone’s responsibility.”
Recognizing the intrinsic interwovenness of adverse social and environmental impacts, and the cognate imperative that social justice be pursued concurrently with climate targets in corporate sustainability strategy, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) formed a centerpiece of two panel discussions at Sustain 2022. In light of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, DE&I has increasingly become a priority for corporate and procurement leaders; however, enduring inequalities pertaining to gender, race and sexual orientation in corporate workforces internationally underscore the imperative that more action be taken.
In this context, Keri Gilder, Chief Executive Officer at Colt Technology Services, argued that business leaders must start considering “Diversity as a strategic imperative, not just as a moral imperative”, referencing a range of empirical data sources that demonstrate how diverse workforces are at once more productive and more creative. “It blows my mind that more companies and more management teams are not looking at that”, Gilder concluded. “You cannot ignore DE&I when you t