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The Conversation - October Edition



Welcome to the October edition of The Conversation.

The corporate sustainability model is evolving. More than ever before, companies today are facing pressure to demonstrate their ability to be good corporate citizens, and to use their size and influence to affect positive social change. Some are moving ahead in leaps and bounds, while others remain behind. But the race has just begun – and there is much to be gained.

In this autumn issue of The Conversation, we explore what this actually means for businesses. Bjørn Kj. Haugland, Executive Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at certification company DNV GL Group, outlines the importance of collaboration to drive social change.

In The Forum, Steph Croft-Simon, founder and director of Nom Foods, and Unmesh Brahme, Yale World Fellow discuss what defines corporate sustainability success.

Elsewhere, we also provide an update of what we’ve been up to at Sermelo this past quarter.

As always if you have any thoughts or comments you’d like to share about what you read here, do get in touch with us. We’d love to hear from you.

A Word from our Founder

Corporate social responsibility has always been a concept that divides opinion.

Some stakeholders dismiss it as a ‘box-ticking exercise' while others suggest organisations are trying to shift perceptions by highlighting their good deeds. What I find most exciting is those who can see the long term strategic advantages in responding to societal concerns and are driving fundamental change in both their own organisations, and the ecosystems in which they operate.

No doubt this more advanced and integrated form of CSR is driven by greater transparency and an increase in societal expectations. We, as consumers or buyers of services, now demand far more from the companies we choose to do business with. In increasingly homogenised marketplaces, sustainability credentials provide a point of differentiation and have the potential to deliver competitive advantage.

While some companies have identified an opportunity to add value for customers by creating ethical supply chains, others have focussed on ensuring they deliver positive societal contributions beyond the product or service they provide. In some case cases, customers are willing to pay extra, but even in situations where this is not achievable the effects are invariably positive for both the organisation and their stakeholders. From affecting the employer brand to the investor perspective (after all, investments in sustainability programmes can signal a long-term plan for the business) it is a halo effect that will continue to swell. The caveat is, of course, that they cannot afford to incur reputational damage, but operating in an authentic and transparent way should mitigate against this.

Yet to fully reap the benefits, organisations must ensure that they are telling people what they are doing. Sustainability reports need to go beyond long documents that are housed on the website. Rather the content must be used across all channels – from sales presentations and employee newsletters to social media and advertising.

For once, telling a positive story really can be as simple as reporting on what you are doing. Organisations that are willing to do this can (and will) rise above the competition. As long as the evidence is there, people will listen. And above all, people want to listen.

Sermelo News

We are pleased to have introduced Sermelo Six – a weekly update on our top finds in culture, food, art, news and music. Published every Friday morning, it’s a way to keep up with what we’ve been reading, seeing and doing. We hope you find it interesting; you can see last week’s edition here [hyperlink].

Elsewhere, we clocked up lots of travel miles over the summer. Between all of us we managed to visit countries on the Med, the Atlantic, Bosphorus Strait, the North, South China and the Ionion Seas.

We’ve also had a very celebratory September with four of our esteemed colleagues turning a collective 138 years between them! As our Twitter followers will be aware, we marked each with lots of tea and cake!

Client News

We are very pleased to welcome Norwegian Air’s UK team to 42 Tavistock Street. They are now occupying the top floor of the building and busy making their mark on the UK with a raft of announcements – including the unveiling of a new route connecting Ireland with US.

Andermatt Swiss Alps held a ground-breaking ceremony for the development’s second hotel earlier this month, and marked the occasion by burying a time capsule in the foundations. The new hotel, which is to be built from locally sourced materials, will be a welcome addition to the picturesque alpine village.

The Forum

Steph Croft-Simon, Nom Foods:

What are the most effective metrics / measures to gauge corporate sustainability success?

Measuring corporate sustainability success is first about how you interpret it as a business. For Nom Foods, (a health food brand) it’s about creating long-lasting value for customers and employees and making it easier for the customer to put good, nourishing food into their bodies. By good, we don’t just mean healthy. By establishing core values, we ensure optimum nutrition for the customer, better pay for the farmers who grow the ingredients in our products, GMO-free crops, sustainable methods of farming and manufacture, carbon neutral delivery and no animal cruelty.

We measure our success in this area by analysing our brand identity and asking questions like; are we a trusted brand, and if so, why? Success in this respect would be our customers and partners being aware of what we’re doing to enhance our corporate sustainability. We talk openly and honestly about what we’re doing – transparency is key.

How do you identify which partner(s) you can work with, with respect to your corporate sustainability initiatives?

We only supply other businesses that fit with our ethical ideas and uphold our values – retailers like Whole Foods, Planet Organic, Ocado and Holland & Barrett all have sustainable policies in place, which we agree with and aspire to. Many of our distributors are co-operatives, who run business models that operate within planetary limits and are sensitive to their economic, environmental and social responsibilities.

We carry this idea through to employing the right staff, too. Employees are sustainably aware and bring real knowledge and value to the business. The newest member of our team has a Masters degree in environmental sustainability. This kind of background breeds a certain awareness and allows us to ensure that we are working as sustainably as possible with partners and third parties – for example, carbon neutral couriers and recycling firms.

How do you ensure your messaging aligns to different stakeholder demands, and is authentic?

We make all of our communication open and honest – at nom foods, all employees live a healthy lifestyle and genuinely believe in the benefits of buying organic, fair-trade, sugar-free etc. All of our marketing and communication with customers is an extension of our own lifestyles. It’s easier to portray our core values when we make a point of living by them ourselves.

We are also audited by the organisations that certify our products as Organic, Vegan and Ethical. This means keeping extremely detailed logs relating to our buying and manufacturing habits and make sure that these stay true to what we are claiming. This also means that we are fully committed to being what we say we are – and everyone including retailers, consumers, suppliers, brand ambassadors and investors, know that we are genuine in our claims.

We see the importance of all businesses, large and small, proving their effectiveness through corporate sustainability disclosure.

Unmesh Brahme, Yale World Fellow

What are the most effective metrics / measures to gauge corporate sustainability success?

One of the most important metrics in gauging corporate sustainability success is impact and corporations’ abilities to create sustained social and environmental impact.

These virtuous cycles of impact create a definitive pathway for sustainable development, financial inclusion and building a shared economy. A related and significant metric, connected with the core competency of businesses is the corporation’s ability to ensure consistent shareholder and stakeholder trust.

Ideals and values do matter. A truly sustainable corporation can manage both commercial and social outcomes while embedding positive governance within the fabric of the corporation.

How do you identify which partner(s) you can work with, with respect to your corporate sustainability initiatives?

Partnerships assume distinct form and shapes.

With charities and not-for-profit partners, social and environmental change must be visible and measurable, and resources allocated and utilised as efficiently as possible.

When working with other businesses, social and environmental stress points across supply and value chains must be identified. From here, innovative solutions can be created and deployed, and sustainability interventions considered at every available opportunity.

From an internal perspective, the corporation must ensure positive work culture, affirmative action and diversity to support its corporate sustainability position.

How do you ensure your messaging aligns to different stakeholder demands, and is authentic?

Since stakeholder perceptions, beliefs, rationale and conclusions differ substantially, especially against the backdrop of uncertain operating environments message authenticity is an emerging discipline and also a moving target.

Messaging that is pre-emptory, predatory or opportunistic, many not support the brand’s true essence and values. Open and transparent communication on multiple issues of concern is a better way to avoid conflict and overzealous activism by polarised elements. This is best achieved through developing a consistent messaging platform where every ‘negative’ is an opportunity for creating a new paradigm and every ‘positive’ leads to an entrenched brand solidarity position.

Sermelo Insight

A viewpoint by Bjørn Kj. Haugland, Executive Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) at the certification company DNV GL Group. He is responsible for DNV-GL Group's sustainability agenda, and is the Chairman of DNV GL Corporate Sustainability Board.

Business collaborations to drive social change

2015 is an extraordinary year for corporate sustainability, with the launch of the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals in New York last month, and the COP21 climate talks taking place in Paris in December.

With these milestones, profound changes are underway in terms of the expectations society has of business. The process of developing the new Sustainable Development Goals included the voice of the private sector, and the goals will not be achievable without multi-stakeholder collaboration. This inclusion of corporations sends a clear message about the important role for business in global development, and serves as a critical driver in pushing companies to contribute towards the goals.

At DNV GL Group, we believe that leaders from all parts of society, whether from business, politics, academia or NGOs, have one common responsibility – to build resilient and sustainable societies. In order to get there, we need to shift to a new strategic mindset.

Collaboration with multiple stakeholders, including regulators, is crucial to developing pathways to a sustainable future. At DNV GL, we have initiated a range of initiatives with partners that we think provides some food for thought.

Adopt a thought leadership position

To build a thought leadership position in your field of expertise, it is beneficial to team up with partners from other businesses, government and civil society. At DNV GL, the Global Opportunity Network has been an important partnership to make our mark on the sustainability agenda.

We developed the Global Opportunity Report to explore global sustainability challenges. The content came out of the Global Opportunity Network, a partnership with UN Global Compact (the UN’s main platform for engaging with businesses), and Scandinavia’s largest independent think tank, the Monday Morning Global Institute.

Together, our aim was to demonstrate how global sustainability challenges and risks can be seen as opportunities, and to consequently provide an open platform for innovation, where stakeholders worldwide can explore and capture sustainability opportunities and solutions. This approach was particularly effective as The Global Opportunity Report was particularly timely; it was released as global leaders met in Davos in 2015.

Mark the calendar

It is impossible to drive social change on your own. Therefore it is imperative to build a broad network of stakeholders across sectors, who you can collaborate with through various initiatives.

At DNV GL, we bring together influential thought leaders and key players from business, academia, civil society, and government at our annual sustainability roundtable.  The roundtable invites action-oriented discussions and reflections on how we can mobilise change and drive the push for sustainability forward. Debating how we can move from a map of actions towards a strategy of change, and crucially, what role both the group and DNV GL can play in the process, the result of our conversations are presented in a white paper widely shared with our stakeholders.

Leverage your expertise to provide valuable insights and drive social change

All corporations have their own field of expertise. But how can they leverage this knowledge to drive social change? At DNV GL, we regularly publish research reports on the topic of sustainability, leveraging our broad expertise in technology, energy, maritime and climate.

As the UN Global Compact – the world’s largest voluntary corporate sustainability initiative – marked its 15th anniversary in 2015, we were asked to assess the impact Global Compact has had, in making business more sustainable. Has the global economy changed for the better? And what has been the impact of the Global Compact? The final report was presented in the UN General Assembly  in New York earlier this year, and concluded with setting out three pathways for the future – our recommendations for how we can work together to achieve the vision of a sustainable and inclusive global economy, and what the Global Compact can do to scale its impact.

We also wanted to add a human angle to the findings to bring them to life in a more visual way. So we also launched NEXT Sustainable Business, which is a compilation of unique stories on the importance of corporate sustainability from progressive and inspiring leaders, including Ban Ki-moon, Georg Kell, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, and Kofi Annan. These third party comments provided compelling content to further add to the story we were telling.

Entering the era of mass collaboration
As identified by our UN Global Compact assessment, collaboration is not only on the rise, but it is also changing form. 15 years ago, companies were facing issues alone – and a high degree of mutual scepticism and mistrust characterised relationships with other stakeholders.

Today, stakeholder dialogue, consultation and partnerships have become part of business, and cross-sector collaboration is being actively used to foster technological innovation and product development. This will only have a win-win effect for society and the environment.

Out and About

Reputation seminar

We attended a seminar on Reputation Protection, delivered by leading law firm Addleshaw Goddard. The legalities of reputation management – particularly in a crisis situation – are areas that we are broadly aware of. Yet the illuminating session provided us with an in-depth look at the approach taken by legal experts, and enabled us to understand exactly how and when communications counsel has a critical role to play. An ex-journalist also revealed the processes that the press will follow to report on a story and drove home the point that information management is a third area of serious consideration.

New York Times Breakfast Briefing

We attended a fantastic breakfast briefing in October that was hosted by the New York Times. It included speeches from Dean Baquet, the Executive Editor. He is the first Black American to serve as executive editor, the highest-ranking position in the paper's newsroom.

Dean provided some fantastic insight into some of the biggest stories that NYT has broken, including having a journalist on the ‘inside’ who discovered the FIFA scandal. It was also interesting to hear Dean’s opinion on some of the New York Times’ competitors, such as the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and rising star Buzzfeed. It was also interesting to hear how Dean thought the role of digital and social media was transforming the way in which we digest news, and whether indeed there was still room for more in-depth analysis that the NYT is so famous for.


Sermelo News


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