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Waste, raw materials and data: industries to re-think their production and logistics

In conversation with Pei Yun Teng, Global Director of Social Impact at A.T. Kearney on how consulting is helping businesses develop their sustainability mission

Kearney and the Circular Fashion Index

Patagonia was one of the three companies to achieve an acceptable score in the Circular Fashion Index. This was compiled by Kearney by extending the life cycle of their garments; a key metric for reducing the number of clothes sent to landfill. While the media focuses on the brands themselves as the drivers of change; the importance lies in the background with the consultancy companies; recognizing the advantage of helping businesses run efficiently. With a cleaner future through sustainability measures and more ideation towards purpose-led economies. 

Pei Yun Teng has been the Global Director of Social Impact at Kearney for almost five years. Previously he worked in emerging markets for over ten. Her work has shifted more towards sustainability as companies learnt of adding it to their brand values. «Sustainability was not to do well while doing good. The focus was on CSR, risk mitigation and greenwashing. You don’t have to only look at sustainability as a cost. But rather look at it as an investment or as a source of value creation». Although Kearney may not be as large as consultancy firms like BCG and Bain; their unique angle of social impact initiatives makes them a key player for future developments in businesses; led by innovators geared towards respecting the planet and its people. 

Consumers doubting companies who are not transparent

Multibillion businesses have come under fire for protecting their bottom line; over accountable social impact measures. Consumers have come to doubt companies who are not transparent about their initiatives, results and company practices. «In this field, you’ll have different segments. You have people who already get it – they’re passionate, they want to do it and already are doing it. All I need to do is to get it done. On the other end of the spectrum, you have people who think. Of course, this needs to be done. But does this really need to be done by businesses? Does this need to be done by our team?».

This kind of thinking has made it difficult for businesses to adapt to younger consumers; who are using their spending power to decide what companies to endorse. Based on how proactive they are in developing innovation, prioritizing the ecosystems it depends on and supporting social movements. According to an analysis by Kearney from 2020; two thirds (66%) of consumers in the EU and US are willing to pay extra for sustainable products. Half (49%) say that a company’s environmental record is an important factor in making their purchase. Half (49%) say that they would prioritize sustainable products over convenience. Even travelling further to avoid products that are less environmentally friendly.

The very idea of ‘social responsibility

According to Teng, the very idea of ‘social responsibility’ is a tenuous term. Loaded with the obligation, rather than the choice to develop new practices. Change the way that companies are run. «What I’ve seen over the past 10 years is an industry shift; away from the term ‘social responsibility’. Responsibility has that negative connotation. That it is something that you have to do. But who is making you do it really? Is it regulation? Your investors? Or customers? What people have to think about is why don’t they think that there is also a joy to do it.

It brings purpose and inspiration to people; it’s a chance to explore new business models and to create value. There’s all kinds of terms like this one – you have ‘corporate citizenship’, ‘sustainability’, the ‘triple bottom line’. I’m not fussed about what we call it as long as we respect the central principles; which is about how in the long term, what are we creating together? How does this impact all of the stakeholders for the greater good?». This is a growing difference to the way that sustainability was approached previously. For many it had been seen as an out of touch response to an accelerating world. 

Lampoon, The Happiness Strategy Kearney
The Happiness strategy: water preservations, new energy sources, the water-food energy nexus and environmental sustainability

Audits and certifications like the B Corp to scale environmental efforts

As the world stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most businesses took the time to re-think their missions going forward, working with the sentiment of the consumers rather than against it. It can be difficult to implement, which is why many companies have not tried it until now.

«Where they are struggling so far is that they are not necessarily able to operationalize those commitments. Anyone can make a sustainability commitment, but how do you actually achieve those commitments while still running a profitable business? How do you buy the investments with sustainability versus the other 100 things; that are going on in the core business agenda? The types of projects that we have been working on with clients are really around ‘how do you operationalize this?’ For example, what kind of network footprint do you need? There are steps upstream and downstream that need to be considered».

Scaling environmental efforts

For businesses looking to scale their environmental efforts; audits and certifications like the B Corp in the fashion industry. They present a tangible way of giving their consumers certainty that their clothing was produced through a rigorous vetting process. A new investigation into bribes and ‘show factories’ in China. By the South China Morning Post shows areas of production for fashion still passed off to subcontractors; who are desperate to complete orders for Western brands. With more calls for streamlining audits; sustainability measures and certification need to stand firm on practices that pay off in the long run. 

The compromise on the bottom line for stakeholders

A key part of that social change in the way that businesses are run; comes from the compromise on the bottom line for stakeholders. While long-term investment and planning may initially seem counter-intuitive to the quarter by quarter growth model; the pay-off comes in developing solutions for a future-proof company. Teng says that collaboration between stakeholders is key to the success of strong companies; that work their initiatives with their future sustainability efforts in mind. 

«We need to see in terms of multi stakeholder collaboration. The business world has been thinking about building competitive advantage. If you have this cool innovation to save water in the manufacturing process, you keep this all to yourself. If we really want to think about how we can; in terms of ecosystem, change for the longer term; there’s a lot of untapped value in how businesses can actually work with their peers. Driving policy change for the better, aligning standards for receiving investments and building up supply chains. If you are just one player, then maybe you have a first mover advantage. But your pilot is just a pilot and it’s just going to be a PR story. Because the ecosystem is not ready to scale it up at the rate that would be financially viable for you».

The Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics

A number of top business leaders have formed a coalition across different industries; and announced their commitment to the Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics. A set of environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics and disclosures; released by the World Economic Forum and its International Business Council (IBC) in September 2020. The focus is specifically on creating and measuring long-term enterprise value creation; for all stakeholders and Kearney are one of the 61 companies involved. 

Lampoon, Sustainable packaging Kearney
Sustainable packaging: Kearney builds a five year sustainability strategy for PET plastic bottles across carbonated and non-carbonated beverages

The Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics

Drawn from existing voluntary standards, they offer a core set of twenty-one points. Focused on people, planet, prosperity and principles of governance; considered most critical for their businesses, the wider society and the environment. The companies can report regardless of industry or region. They strengthen the ability of companies and investors; to set a standard and progress on sustainability developments; improving decision-making and enhancing transparency and accountability for long-term value. The role of consultancy companies in the venture is still there. As companies shift their production, operations and need even more data to develop new models. Consultancy becomes the essential component for a smooth transition.

«We have been working with this multibillion food company; who have a challenge with sustainable packaging and waste management. like other consumer goods companies. They have an innovation team; where they are trying to figure out what are the next innovations that can come through for them. Based in different geographies and at different scales. We are helping them figure out what are some of these innovations; that you could potentially pilot within a business and scale up. ». This level of collaboration is what business and innovation will have in the future. The speed of progress for the wider industry will outweigh the advantage created by keeping the innovation at one company. 

A re-think of future priorities for companies that reflect social movements

Last year showed that if a company can’t swim when the tide changes, they die. Major high street groups and brands like Debenhams. The Arcadia Group that owns Topshop and the oldest department store in the US. Lord & Taylor have filed for administration across the world. For many, this has meant a re-think of future priorities; that reflect social movements and creating a better society. a key part of long-term thinking that goes beyond standard business goals.

«A combination of market forces.Ffrom your clients and consumers; regulatory frameworks; and ultimately, companies rising up to ask – why do we even exist? What is our legacy? How do we make this a great place for people to work so all of those things come together? With 2020 being quite a tumultuous year with COVID; and the protests in America that brought forth conversations around social and racial justice, these questions became pivotal. What does it mean to create an inclusive, fair, just society? You realize that with these things, you’re not able to say – it’s a climate thing, or it’s a poverty thing. These problems are structural, they are interrelated and that’s why these are complex problems to solve. It means that with the power of different stakeholders; coming together with a long-term commitment can make a significant impact that way».

Kearney 

An American management consulting firm founded in 1926 as a branch of McKinsey & Company. The company became independent in 1939. Currently has offices in more than 40 countries worldwide. Kearney has earned top places among global management consulting firm rankings. Such as Vault’s Consulting 50 and Consulting magazine’s ‘Best Firms to Work For’. In January 2020, the firm underwent a major rebranding and changed its name from A.T. Kearney to Kearney.

Zofia Zwieglinska

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

check and buy on Prototipo Store
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Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us

check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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