Sustain 2024: Six Lessons From Our Annual Sustainability Conference

March 27, 2024 EcoVadis EN

Our annual Sustain conference brings together pioneers, thought leaders, executives and practitioners from across the business world – and beyond – to exchange learnings, ideas and inspiration on the current state and future of sustainability. This year’s event, hosted March 11-12 in Paris, saw more than 600 in-person attendees and 3,800+ virtual participants from more than 100 countries. Two days of keynote addresses, plenary discussions and breakout sessions explored topics across the entire sustainability spectrum. Here are some key insights from the conference to inspire and help guide your procurement and sustainability efforts this year.

1) Sustainability is now the business imperative. 

According to Andrew Winston, best-selling author of Net Positive, “We are now living in a VUCA world” – one characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. This reality is plain to see: 2023 brought record global temperatures, unprecedented ESG politicization, persistent economic and supply chain disruptions, and increasingly stringent regulations.

To navigate these challenges and thrive in this landscape, companies must adopt a more holistic approach to sustainability that enables them to reduce risk, build resilience, ensure compliance, drive innovation and maintain the social license to operate. In his plenary address, Winston highlighted just how inextricably linked sustainability is to doing business in 2024: “Sustainability now means ‘the role of business in society.’” 

2) Regulations can be daunting, but they present an opportunity to transform your business.

With the conference taking place just days before the pivotal CSDDD vote – EU Member States have since reached an agreement – sustainability regulations took center stage. EcoVadis Co-CEOs Pierre-François Thaler and Frédéric Trinel set the tone in their opening remarks: 

This is a massive shift for our community. Navigating a flurry of regulations will require us to develop new tools, without forgetting that the end game is not compliance but leveraging these regulations to accelerate the transformation of our economies.” 

Several sessions, including Navigating Compliance and Disclosure Requirements featuring EFRAG’s Patrick de Cambourg, explored what this shift from voluntary to mandatory disclosure and due diligence means for companies. In Get Ready for CSRD, the speakers touched on the daunting nature of the EU’s comprehensive reporting directive and that compliance will be an ongoing journey requiring commitment and flexibility. While getting started can be challenging, a proactive approach to compliance offers many benefits. As Sonja Haut, Head of Impact Valuation at Novartis, said “just adding a tad more [to your approach] than what’s required by regulations can already create more impact and help you move toward value creation. Regulations are lagging indicators.”

3) Gaining carbon transparency throughout the value chain is essential.

On the heels of COP 28, pressure is mounting on companies to gain a complete picture of their operational and value chain emissions, set science-based targets and deliver real emission reductions. In the session Towards Net Zero Supply Chains, Dexter Galvin from CDP and Anke Hampel from ABB explored the progress being made toward decarbonizing global value chains. For example, the number of companies with targets validated by the SBTi doubled to more than 4,000 in 2023. Hampel – ABB’s Group Head of Sustainability – shared some of the tangible actions that earned her organization a coveted spot on CDP’s 2023 Climate A List.

Another session brought together procurement leaders from Baxter and INNIO to discuss how our Carbon Action Manager solution is enabling them to map carbon risks and opportunities across their entire value chain and focus their decarbonization efforts. With the help of CAM, companies are gaining the Scope 3 transparency they need to baseline their value chain emissions, set verified targets and prepare for compliance with regulations like the EU’s CSRD and California’s climate disclosure law. According to Mindy Agnew, Senior Manager of Global Supplier Diversity & Sustainability at Baxter, “[CAM] helps us get the data we need and manage any issues that may surface.” 

4) Every company must embrace the digital transformation.

“Every business is going to become a sustainable business. And actually, we like to say digital and sustainable business.” These were the words of Wytse Kaastra, Senior Managing Director at Accenture, in the session Building Purpose-led Businesses. The digital transformation of global value chains – and the role of AI in driving it – was an important theme at this year’s conference. Businesses that embrace emerging digital tools and integrate them into existing processes will be able to gain unprecedented visibility into their suppliers’ practices and significantly scale their sustainable procurement efforts. The Intro to IQ Plus and Vitals session looked at how EcoVadis solutions like IQ Plus leverage AI to conduct risk mapping across a company’s entire supply base, giving them the visibility they need to make better decisions.

5) Apply a long-term, regenerative and nature-positive lens to your sustainability efforts.

Regulations were at the fore of many conversations – and for good reason. But there were also compelling discussions about why leaders need to think far beyond compliance. Sally Uren, CEO of Forum for the Future, explored this in Beyond Compliance Towards a Just and Regenerative Economy. She highlighted the interconnection between environmental and social impacts, reminding us that we must resist the reflex to try to separate them in our engagements and measurements. 

This deep connection was echoed by Zoe Greindl from Business for Nature in a session focused on biodiversity: “Every business depends on nature and the services it provides. Raw materials, clean air, climate regulation, healthy ecosystems that support pollination – all of these are essential to long-term business success.” Applying a nature-positive lens to business will be essential to meeting the Kunming-Montreal Agreement’s goal to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. More and more companies are already doing this to respond to investor, consumer and regulatory pressure. The CSRD, for example, will require in-scope companies to report on their biodiversity impacts and develop clear targets and action plans.

6) Build a compelling value case to drive effective engagement and collaboration.

A red thread running through the keynote addresses and sessions was the importance of engaging stakeholders, finding new ways to collaborate and building momentum. Although the sustainability imperative may be clear, Wytse Kaastra stressed that engagement is a continuous journey: “Being more articulate on the value case is super important. Because, although we all want to improve the world, in business arenas it’s not always good enough.” Effective internal and external engagement builds the foundation for collaboration and innovation to flourish.

The scope of the challenges we face can make staying the course difficult. Maria Outters, Chief Impact Officer at SBTi, acknowledged that “the climate crisis we are in is somewhat daunting and sometimes depressing.” However, she stressed that “the good thing is there is a lot of collaboration and engagement [happening] – this is the positive side of the journey we need to take together.” In one of the most inspirational speeches of the conference, gold medal winning Paralympian Karen Darke imparted wisdom on how we each have the power to affect change: “To make a difference collectively, we need to work at the personal level. Everything we do comes from our individual mindset and that has a knock-on effect on the people we work with and everyone around us.”

These are just a few of the highlights from an action-packed two days at Sustain 2024. View all of the session recordings here for plenty more insights!

About the Author

EcoVadis EN

EcoVadis is a purpose-driven company whose mission is to provide the world's most trusted business sustainability ratings. Businesses of all sizes rely on EcoVadis’ expert intelligence and evidence-based ratings to manage risk and compliance, drive decarbonization, and improve the sustainability performance of their business and value chain. Its AI-powered risk mapping, actionable scorecards, benchmarks, carbon action tools, and insights guide a resilience and improvement journey for environmental, social and ethical practices across 200 industry categories and 175 countries.

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