What is Sweden’s longterm approach to sustainability?
A yearly report on Energy Transtion readiness is compiled each year and Sweden has once again reached the top spot. So what is it about Sweden? Is everyone in Sweden an eco-warrior in Greta Thunberg´s shadow or is it something more fundamental?
You can read more about the report in this article on World Economic Forum website and here is an extract: “The report says despite the diversity of the top performing nations in their primary energy mix, systems and resources, they all share certain characteristics, demonstrating a combination of technical advances and effective policy-making and implementation… These countries have commonalities: stable regulatory frameworks, innovative business environments capable of attracting investment and strong political commitment to energy transition.”
Sweden’s inspiring journey toward a sustainable future is both positive for the planet, but also creating new industries and jobs while minimising risk of energy crisis economically. In the business world, this longterm approach to growth is less common but longterm investments are in fact quite common. For example, when companies invest in new factories to make production cheaper or more geographically convenient, there is a short-term up-front cost but the assumption is there will be future commercial benefits. We need to start seeing sustainable investment in the same way…
Learning from Sweden for sustainable business?
Longterm sustainable growth is only achieved through ambition AND action. Ambitious longterm goals with a clear sustainable vision combined with hyper local short-term solutions and actions. It becomes one of the drivers of growth for Sweden with new industries, innovations and jobs created. And similarly for your business, investing in sustainabililty can reduce waste (and costs), create new business models and revenue streams and increase employee engagement and loyalty, to name a few benefits.
However, in many corporations, there is usually a big gap between short-term commercial actions and long-term sustainable ambitions. Companies struggle to align business development with sustainability ambitions. And most companies fall into 1 of 2 categories when it comes to sustainability:
- TALKERS – high “moonshot” longterm ambitions combined with short-term initatives that feel good internally might generate PR but will never help them reach their ambition
- WALKERS – just doing stuff, very busy doing projects to minimise impact of the business-as-usual, when business-as-usual is what needs to be transformed.
Very few companies are walkers and talkers…
This is what differentiates the companies leading the way in sustainable transformation such as Patagonia, Adidas or Maxburger in Sweden. the sustainable leaders are first and foremost THINKERS setting the sustainable vision and ambitious goals aligned to their business operations and brand. Then they are TALKERS by inspiring consumers with the vision, moving the industry forward – think Tesla launching the Model S electric sports car before more accessible models. Finally they are WALKERS, by aligning their operations and communication, engaging employees, re-aligning their product portfolio and building innovation plans to get them closer to the longterm ambition. The best example of this might be Patagonia donating its entire $10 million Trump tax break in 2018 to grassroots environmental activist groups. It’s totally aligned with their sustainability ambitions and longterm vision. It’s essentially free marketing, strengthening their brand story and resonating strongly with their environmentally conscious consumers.
Could the Sweden story inspire your company?
Here’s an exercise you could do to find out. It’s a fun discussion, relevant for different functions and the output can be a very useful for concrete discussions with management teams:
- Gather a group of 5-6 employees from across the business, covering different functions such as operations, HR, CSR, marketing, product…
- Before the physical meeting, share the video above to get people excited and in the right frame of mind.
- Draw a graph, and on the horizontal axis, write WALKER (do a lot but with no longterm plan or clear impact), and on the vertical axis write TALKER (loudly communicate the ambitions and use sustainabililty as a marketing tool)
- As a group, map out where you see yourselves on the graph. Behonest with yourselves if you want this exercise to be useful
- Now repeat the exercise with your 3-5 main competitors. If you are struggling, you could try with a leading company from another industry, such as Patagonia. This will give you a benchmark.
- If this is difficult to do in general, choose areas of your business, such as products, operations, employee engagement.
- If time or geography are limiting, you could do it individually and compare results to find consensus.
- This will give you a picture to use as a starting point in discussions with leadership teams.
The journey from short-term business-as-usual to long-term impact isn’t easy. To read more about the 6 critical steps to transform your business toward sustainability, click here.