Following the publication of our latest Directions Report, The Rise of Science, at the end of 2015, we hosted a forum here in London on 16 March. Key speakers from The Body Shop, Future Fit, Diageo, Mondelez, and DSM shared their experience of using science as part of sustainability in their own organisations. Panellists from Salterbaxter, Amec Foster Wheeler, Coca Cola Enterprises, and an expert within the sustainability field then shared their perspectives on the discussion points raised.
So, what were the key points discussed? Throughout the event, six key messages presented themselves.
1. It’s important to look forward not backwards
Benchmarking sustainability performance against an arbitrary baseline provides a somewhat meaningless performance measure when considering in an external context. What is more useful is to consider business impact in relation to the planetary boundaries that exist. This helps determine the changes required by business to act within these limits.
2. Science needs context
Science needs to be put into context to become meaningful. Just considering the science alone can sometimes mislead. For example when determining a science-based greenhouse gas emissions target, if using a sector apportionment method you have done enough, should you stop trying to reduce your impact? Of course not. It needs context to become sensible.
3. Facts need emotion
Similarly, there’s more needed than just the science. Using the human story behind the science helps engage others. The science doesn’t provoke an emotional reaction to support engagement, but human stories do.
4. You can’t do it alone
Engaging others internally and externally is needed to drive sustainable change. Using science to determine the right issues and the right stakeholders can aid collaboration. Science can also help drive internal thinking forward through innovation and supporting the business case for change.
5. If it doesn’t exist, create it
Companies shouldn’t be put off by the lack of information or fact. If you need to understand your impact, or need measures that don’t currently exist, don’t stop, create them and help others to do so. Use tools such as life cycle analysis and impact mapping to determine and quantify issues.
6. Drive action not a story
It’s much more important to do something that will drive change and have a positive impact, than do something that will make a good story. A good story may be a happy secondary result of taking strong, strategic action. But your action should be based on making a positive impact.
The discussion around the benefits science can have and the limitations of considering science alone continue. Although, it’s certain that science will continue to be a fundamental part of sustainable business now and in the future.