Thriving as a Sustainable Business, with Strategy Speaker Andrew Winston


Exclusive Interview with: Andrew Winston

Keynote speaker Andrew Winston is the author of the award-winning The Big Pivot and co-author of the international best seller Green to Gold . He speaks to executives around the world, appears regularly in major media, and advises many of the world’s largest companies on how to navigate and profit from global mega-trends. Andrew bases his work on significant in-company business experience. His earlier career included advising companies on corporate strategy while at Boston Consulting Group and management positions in strategy and marketing at Time Warner and MTV. Andrew holds an economics degree from Princeton, an MBA from Columbia, and a Masters of Environmental Management from Yale.

…Businesses have to reassess their role in society along with how well they are solving their own, their customers’, and the world’s biggest challenges.

SPEAKING.COM: What are the “mega challenges” you feel businesses need to take on in order to thrive in the long term?

WINSTON: My work focuses on helping executives navigate the mega-trends and disruptions changing how business operates. These include a fast-changing climate, stress on natural resources (like water), rapid reductions in the price of clean energy, Millennial attitudes about what it means to succeed in business, and radical transparency driven by technology and connectivity. Every one of these forces means that businesses have to reassess their role in society along with how well they are solving their own, their customers’, and the world’s biggest challenges.

SPEAKING.COM: The term “sustainability” has become a highly used word in recent years. When it comes to your work, how do you define “sustainability”?

WINSTON: Sustainability has had a number of definitions over the years. The most commonly used comes from an important United Nations effort 30 years ago: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” It’s a tidy definition that speaks to a way of thinking that allows us to maintain our quality of life and protect resources so we don’t diminish the planet’s capacity to support humans indefinitely.

From a business and economy perspective, there are many dimensions of what operating sustainability means. A sustainable economic system will be powered by renewable energy, eliminate the concept of waste (by endlessly reusing or repurposing materials), ensure that people have opportunities for meaningful work at living wages, provide for everyone’s general well-being, and more. In short, a sustainable economy is one in service of all life.

SPEAKING.COM: What are a few changes that large companies have made to address environmental issues?

WINSTON: Companies have been reducing their environmental impacts for many years in many ways, focusing on slashing costs and risks by using much less energy and water, and producing less or no waste. More recently, many large companies — especially tech and retail giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Walmart — have bought significant quantities of renewable energy (Apple powers all its datacenters with renewables). Companies have also innovated to create new clean technologies in transportation, buildings, energy, and much more. Finally, an increasing number of companies are wading into politics to defend the Paris climate accord or promote policies that tackle climate change, like a price on carbon.

A large number of “greener” operating practices and technologies save significant money and create business value. Often the hurdles are organizational…The myth that “sustainability always costs more” is still prevalent.

SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the common challenges businesses face when making that “big pivot” to more environmentally friendly practices and how can they overcome those challenges?

WINSTON: These days the hurdles are not really technological or even economic. A large number of “greener” operating practices and technologies save significant money and create business value. Often the hurdles are organizational. Inertia – the way things have always been done – can make change hard. Managers and executives can hold onto outdated views of the costs and benefits of sustainable business practices. The myth that “sustainability always costs more” is still prevalent.

SPEAKING.COM: You’ve stated that in order to go green, companies need to change the way they set their goals. Could you tell us more about what that change looks like?

WINSTON: Until recently, nearly all companies would set goals from the “bottom up.” Meaning, they would ask the organization what they think they can do – for example, cutting energy use by 10% — and then possibly set a stretch target. However, we can’t solve the big, shared environmental and social challenges with incremental, internally-focused thinking. To tackle something like climate change, all organizations and institutions need to set goals based on how fast the science tells us we need to reduce emissions.

To illustrate this, imagine a doctor tells you that you need 6 months of chemotherapy or treatment. You can’t say, “Well, I’ll just try a couple of months and see how it goes.” Realizing this reality, many companies are setting “science-based” goals for reductions in energy, water, and waste; 260 of the world’s largest companies have committed to carbon targets in line with science and 100 companies have committed to an organization called RE100 (which I advise) to move toward 100% renewable energy.

Many companies help their corporate clients manage their businesses better and leaner, which can actually result in selling less of some products and services. The reward, though, is building a longer, deeper relationship with the customer as a trusted ally.

SPEAKING.COM: One of the Big Pivot strategies on the digital presentation featured in your TED Talk reads “Inspire customers to use less.” How can companies do that and benefit from it at the same time?

WINSTON: This is perhaps the biggest challenge and largest “heresy” as I call it – working with customers to reduce their impacts, sometimes by using less of your products. We see this in many business-to-business relationships already. Many companies help their corporate clients manage their businesses better and leaner, which can actually result in selling less of some products and services. The reward, though, is building a longer, deeper relationship with the customer as a trusted ally, and thus capturing market share.

In the consumer realm, this thinking is far less common, but it does happen. Patagonia famously ran an ad saying “Don’t Buy this Jacket” and declared that customers should buy their longer-lasting products only if they needed them. Since then, Patagonia’s sales have grown rapidly, and the company is an outstanding example of how businesses can get a larger share of customer wallets by helping individuals use less.

SPEAKING.COM: In your TED Talk you explain that people have wake-up calls, pivotal moments when they realize they need to change something. What was your “wake-up call” in regard to business and sustainability?

WINSTON: I was working in the dot-com world after being in traditional large business roles at Boston Consulting Group, Time Warner, and Viacom/MTV. When the dot-com crash came, I found myself free to really think about my passions so I started researching how business and environmental issues overlap. I had a few weeks where I read some amazing books about the impact of our economy on our natural resources and the clear threat to our ability to thrive as a species over the long-term. Those few days were my wake-up call about the aspects of our economic system that are impossible to keep going indefinitely, and the amazing opportunities in doing things differently.

SPEAKING.COM: Regarding supply chains, the transportation and distribution of materials and products around the globe currently depends on fossil fuels. Additionally the process produces a high quantity of CO2 emissions. How are the companies you work with addressing this?

WINSTON: Companies are reducing their energy intensity, often in dramatic ways. In transportation specifically, the big logistics companies have used GPS and software to optimize routes. UPS famously stopped taking left turns in grid-like cities, avoiding idling time at lights. Their use of “telematics” has cut 100 million miles from routes annually.

There have also been significant efforts to clean up international shipping fleets – those ships produce an enormous amount of air pollution by using dirty fuels. Of course, there are also real efforts to localize production more, which lessens logistics time and footprint.

SPEAKING.COM: How do you think the Millennial generation’s growing participation in the economy will affect businesses’ stances on ecologically responsible practices?

WINSTON: It already has. Millennials are on their way to being 50% of the workforce by 2020. Every company I work with and talk to is focused on this issue of appealing to these 20 and 30-somethings, as customers and, perhaps more importantly, as employees.

This generation has different views of how companies should operation. A global survey by Deloitte showed that 87% thought companies should measure success by more than purely financial performance. Millennials are significantly more likely to see climate change as a big threat and expect companies to be more open and transparent about how they manage environmental issues.

To bring sustainability speaker Andrew Winston to your organization, please contact Michael Frick at: Mike@Speaking.com

© SPEAKING.com, published on June 17, 2018

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