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The case for a sustainable business model

The case for a sustainable business model

Thursday, 20 October 2022
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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4 min read

For sustainability to be more than a rhetorical question, it must become embedded in business strategy. This was the message at the Watch Forum, organised in Geneva by Watches and Culture.

Barely a week goes by without conversations on climate change, ocean pollution and fossil fuels adding to the debate on how we can secure Earth’s future. As we hurtle from one natural disaster to another, and conditions for life on our planet continue to deteriorate, any issue relating to sustainability takes on renewed urgency. But is the situation sufficiently alarming for vital systemic changes to be made, especially in business and industry? Probably not, suggested Bérangère Ruchat, Chief Sustainability Officer for the Richemont group. Speaking at the Watch Forum on sustainability, organised in September by Watches and Culture, she asked, “What needs to be done differently to get things moving? For years we’ve been watching films, seeing documentaries, reading reports, but this isn’t enough… mainly because they take a purely emotional view when we should be talking the language of business. Sustainability must be embedded into company strategy at every level.”

Impact management

Bérangère Ruchat urged the audience to cut travel and focus on applying metrics to operations, at the same time warning against becoming bogged down in numbers and analyses. “When I joined Richemont in Februaryá2022,” she recalled, “the group’s CSR teams spent their time writing reports. We need to start focusing on impact.”

Businesses should be competing not only to be the best in the world but the best for the world.
Jonathan Normand

This is a view shared by Jonathan Normand, CEO at B Lab Switzerland, a non-profit serving a global movement of people using business as a force for good with the ultimate aim of delivering solutions to wealth inequality, social injustice and climate change. He advocates for impact management. This implies having the right people in the right places so as to avoid becoming weighed down by red tape, and to speed up the all-important transition. Corporate responsibility (and that of the owner or owners) is key if a company is to leverage its competitive advantages to be not only the best in the world but “the best for the world”.

The importance of data

Based on the principle that you can only manage what you can measure, this means having access to intelligent databases. Which is precisely what FigBytes, the creator of the first real-time sustainability and ESG data platform, offers. Kate Cacciatore, Head of Sustainability at FigBytes, believes there is “one central issue. When we look at how data is collected and managed within a company, it soon becomes apparent that the company in question is following multiple standards instead of one single, relevant reference point. As a result, teams spend their time writing reports and analysing compliance with legal and regulatory requirements. This is where technology can help, by preventing companies from drowning in a sea of data and providing the information that is useful to their strategy. Which is the whole point.” For this to happen, the company’s executive committee must engage with these issues, using the right tools, and be prepared to break with the old ways. “With an open mind and humanistic thinking, amazing things can happen,” promised Kate Cacciatore.

When an industry feels under attack and adopts a defensive position, that’s when we see real progress.
Bérangère Ruchat

Are collaborative action and coalitions between companies in the same branch an effective means of developing sustainable operations? Not necessarily, concluded the panellists. In certain industries, this type of action requires planning phases which can set the process back several years. And what of the companies that hand over the responsibility to their partners rather than addressing sustainability internally? Rather than accelerating change, these groupings can make it harder to reach objectives as companies progress at different rates. “When an industry feels under attack and adopts a defensive position, that’s when we see real progress,” said Bérangère Ruchat. Could these “attacks” come from luxury consumers who increasingly scrutinise the environmental and social performance of the brands they buy? Consultancy reports make clear that younger buyers expect the companies they “choose” to demonstrate honesty, transparency and sustainability. Meeting these demands requires a strong individual commitment but also a collective response, particularly in a luxury industry whose ethical and moral values imply exemplary behaviour. In this respect, enterprises such as the Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030 are both encouraging and necessary.

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