Whether you’re an executive in the finance industry, a tech entrepreneur, or the director of a lifestyle brand, in today’s world sustainability must be a key pillar in your strategy.
Why pivot toward sustainability?
Initiatives such as the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB), which is developing a comprehensive framework for sustainability reporting worldwide, mean regulation is increasingly driving sustainability to the top of the company agenda.
Likewise, the drive towards a green economy makes sustainable innovation a new dynamic area where companies can gain a competitive advantage. Combined, this makes resisting change a high-risk strategy that possibly poses an existential threat.
“There is no choice for companies to embrace sustainability, for some businesses it’s a matter of survival really,” says Ai Ting Goh, associate professor of economics and decision sciences at HEC Paris.
So how can you pivot your business to become more sustainable? Here are five key steps.
1. Learn sustainable theories
Alexandrino Diogenes, founder of DOPNEU, a firm specializing in upcycling and recycling tire waste, felt he needed to enhance his theoretical business knowledge to achieve the company’s sustainability goals.
An experienced professional with nearly two decades of experience in Brazil and Portugal, Alexandrino (pictured) enrolled in the Executive MBA program at HEC Paris to enhance his knowledge of sustainable business concepts.
“I felt I needed to refine my knowledge. I needed to go one step beyond if I wanted the company to be one step beyond,” he says.
The program offers specialist modules with core courses such as Social Responsibility & Ethics, and specializations in areas including Transforming Business For Sustainability and Shaping The Future Of Energy.
Enrolling helped broaden Alexandrino’s understanding of what constitutes a truly holistic sustainable development strategy. “It’s better to be less green and create development in a community, than to be 100% green and have no one there,” he says.
At HEC Paris, Professor Goh heads an Executive MBA Specialization that tackles the subject at hand. Transforming Business for Sustainability—one of the program's 10 Specializations in 13 different locations—aims to teach participants concrete practices on how to implement priority actions in incorporating sustainability in business operations and understand the sustainable challenges businesses face.
2. Consult with other business leaders
A key goal for Alexandrino in enhancing his company’s sustainable credentials was to learn from other executives with experience pivoting to greener business models.
“I was always making sure that I was far from the smartest person in the room,” he explains. “During the EMBA you have the chance to sit by people that have complex backgrounds with many different experiences, and you can exchange ideas.”
Interacting with other executives helped Alexandrino apply his learning in-class to the business in real-time. As he evolved through the program, so too did the company.
“If I had someone by my side who knew a lot about the subject, I could come and say: ‘I’ve done this and it didn’t work, how do I fix it?’ We had a lot of these conversations among the cohort.”
3. Look inward
While learning and developing your knowledge is essential when promoting sustainability within a business, perhaps the most important step is to look inward, identifying your company’s purpose and establishing where it can change.
A purpose shift can open up a wave of new opportunities, feels Professor Goh. “You can redefine your purpose in a way that would allow you to innovate and redesign your whole business model,” she says.
Car manufacturers, for example, could pivot to become mobility-focused firms, providing opportunities to expand into other sustainable modes of transport. Likewise oil companies could broaden to become energy firms incorporating renewables into the business.
For Alexandrino, looking inward helped him expand DOPNEU, adding plastic recycling to the business model by acquiring the rights to a specialist firm in Colombia. “It came to me, the idea that if I am a recycler and I already do a similar material, which is tires, why not do plastic?”
4. Implement a measurable strategy
Combining a new purpose with specialist knowledge can help you curate a sustainability strategy for your business. However, implementing that strategy can be a challenge.
To ensure success when pivoting to a more sustainable business model you must secure cooperation and commitment from your employees. How you do this will depend on the culture of your company, but it’s important to find an effective way to convey any changes.
“Consider how you can communicate the company's purpose to all your employees, so that they are on board, and they understand the changes that need to be made,” says Professor Goh.
With your employees on your side and the company striving towards a more purpose-driven goal, you must also set measurable targets and review them periodically moving forward, in order to ensure your changes are effective as the company evolves.
Once you have a sustainable strategy implemented across the entire business model, you can have greater confidence in the future prospects of your business, says Alexandrino.
“Sustainability is not an option anymore. It's mandatory. If you think that sustainability should be a sector of the company, your thinking is 10 years too late.”
I have met the most competent and diverse batch in this school. These people not only thrive on their own but also makes sure that you are doing it with them. The professors will take your had and walk you through all milestones and make sure you are not left behind. I have found their extracurriculars extremely engaging. There was always a room to have social life after academic life. The only hindrance is the location of the school, it is slightly outside city and living in city is expensive.
Internationality and diversity of opportunities
About my programme I would say it is very international and flexible: we have the opportunity to choose exactly the courses we want. But at the same time, the frame of the campus is crucial in students' life and enable us to create friendships.
Great selection of people
While HEC's MBA is highly selective, I really enjoy the type of people HEC's selects to make sure everybody gets the best out of their MBA experience and networking opportunities. Not only it's an incredibly diverse pool of people (~60 nationalities) but most importantly they make sure to let in friendly empathic and curious people.
Best in France for Grande ecole
A prestigious business school. Languages are important. It is better to have a scientific baccalaureate with excellent grades in high school and good assessments. The courses are well designed as per the latest trends and practicality of learning in stressed upon. Overall, a very good experience.
Diversity and quality of fellow students
Very international and interesting place to be and opens a lot of opportunities, however the administration is very french and facilities are subpar (gym, classrooms) meaning the academic affairs is pretty much useless and lastly we are graded on a curve which can create a toxic environment because of the competition. With that being said the pros outweighs the cons by far.
The quality of the teachers, the campus, the clubs
The school is very international indeed, we have courses with international students and share things with them within the extra academic life (in the social clubs especially). We have great career prospects if we prepare ourselves well - however, the global curriculum is still very finance-oriented, which is a pity for other interesting domains of the company world, which does not rely on finance only. The social clubs are good practice for the management and for now, are quite independent.
HEC Paris awaits you
HEC Paris is really a nice place to do a master's in business. Many classes are useful and interesting (corporate finance, financial accounting, contract law…), some are less - but the curriculum is to be reviewed in the year to come. Regarding the student life, it is incredible, with about 130 clubs, lots of great parties with even greater people. The Jouy campus offers a lot of opportunities to do sports, and you can breathe fresh air every day. HEC also helps a great deal to find an internship or a job.
A dream institute
Enrolling in the HEC MBA was by far the best decision I made for myself. The people and faculty are great, with lots of opportunities to meet people and expand your horizons. Very nice campus where I have had some good running sessions. The alumni network is superb and very helpful. It also has a good support system for entrepreneurs. Would definitely recommend it!