the generational change is a gift for the world

10 may 2019, dimitri barbe

I regularly come into contact with companies that have heard of sustainability, but do little or nothing about it. As long as it doesn’t take too much time, they are willing to draw up a charter. But what’s more important is selling. Attracting customers, making money. “Because that’s what we’ve always done. And we’ve been doing that long before the climate experts got here.”

When the next generation comes in, this vision is significantly calibrated. It’s often sons, daughters, nephews, nieces or younger external directors who consider sustainability to be non-negotiable. For continuity, to give direction to the company. Because they’d like to continue to operate for an additional 25 years – or longer, if at all possible. The new generation looks at the world differently. Their friends and acquaintances do so too. Some of them are even climate experts. We don’t live in the same world as we did, say, 25 years ago. Expectations have irrevocably changed.

Can you simply incorporate corporate social responsibility into the core of your company, if it has never been a part of it? If the corporate culture is not at all geared to this? Absolutely. There are so many companies that make sustainability their (new) raison d'être, in the same organisation, with the same activities, within the same sector. For example, there is a Danish oil company that has become the market leader in renewable energy in just 10 years. The market is still the same, and it is still an energy company.

"If mankind has accidentally changed the climate, can we change it on purpose?” - Interface

Interface, a company that sells carpet tiles worldwide, has also turned positive impact into its main differentiator. And with success: the producer evolved from a relatively polluting company to – again – the market leader in its sector. In the garment industry, Patagonia is working towards a better world, and this has already attracted an immense number of fans. All very well, but those are the big ones, you might think. Brands such as Tony’s Chocolonely, Triodos, Plastic Whale, Seepje, Renewi, Innocent Drinks, Wonky Food, Duroc d’Olives, vdk bank and Ghent-based Blommm are all fully committed to a positive impact. Companies of all shapes and sizes are integrating sustainability into their DNA. 

Sustainability is becoming the new standard. Maybe your customers aren’t asking about it just yet, but an entrepreneur who has the guts to examine their company’s raison d’être is definitely one step ahead. You can take it out on me if it’s not true. Nowadays, brand stories all too often emanate from the point of view of the founders, CEOs and management; and not from resounding market demand.

Yeah, it requires effort and choices to change course. But that’s good news: that’s what makes your brand story unique. It cannot be simply copied or stolen. Authentic and tailored to the world. Where can you still get such opportunities today? Find out where your company’s greatest impact lies, and what your stakeholders think is important. Formulate a unique vision and integrate it into your corporate culture. Step by step. Stop dreaming about it and act. Calibrate. Start over. No, the purpose of your company is not a perfect, ready-made story. It is a compass determining the course of your company. A goal you strive for every day. Honest and radical.

Share your story with your network and you will be amazed at the number of people who follow it. The number of ambassadors you shape, brand fans and supporters. More than enough challenge for the next 25 years, and a solid base for the coming generations. Quite sustainable, isn’t it?