The private sector must be new champions of sustainable development

Sustainability must be an integral part of corporate strategies and anchored in corporate cultures, says one observer.
Thomas Holenia Channel NewsAsia 16 Jul 18;

SINGAPORE: In recent years, we have seen an increase in international and national initiatives to promote a shared focus, empower greater collaborative actions and drive stronger progress towards sustainability.

For example, the 17 UN’s Sustainable Development Goals chart the road ahead on major global challenges and focus areas for the next years until 2030.

They represent a significant step forward in understanding the joint efforts that politics, business and society must make towards ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity.

In November 2015, major cities, regions, companies and investors from around the world signed the Paris Pledge for Action – a collective statement by non-state actors to ensure that the level of ambition set by the Paris Agreement on climate change is met or exceeded.

Meanwhile, Singapore is strengthening its stand by designating 2018 as the Year of Climate Action. So far, the movement has gathered more than 230,000 pledges from individuals, organisations and educational institutions to fight climate change for a sustainable Singapore.


Noticeably, there is a greater call for businesses around the world to step up their commitment, increase their contributions and take the lead.

Together with their employees, suppliers and business partners, companies play an important role in advancing sustainability not only within the company and along the value chain from suppliers to customers, but also within relevant industries and in local communities.

Companies can no longer remain passive. The fact is that humankind already has a global environmental footprint that is greater than the planet’s resources can sustain. Continued growth in the world’s population and global economic activity will inevitably lead to rising consumption levels and resource depletion.

As sustainability becomes a matter of urgency, companies must do more. However, putting sustainability initiatives into action is not without challenges, when we consider the costs of investment and complexity of engaging multiple parties with different interests, for example.

Hence, companies must prioritise goals, balance interests and define their contributions across all areas of the businesses and towards social engagement.


Beginning with their products and solutions, companies have the task to deliver greater performance and improve living standards, but with a smaller footprint. In this situation, achieving more with less is possible only through innovation in a holistic manner.

This requires not only developing individual “green” products, but also optimising their footprint across the source, produce, use and disposal phases.

As such, more and more companies are offering eco-friendly products and complementing their marketing efforts with consumer education on how to save energy and water during everyday use.

In this equation, suppliers are important sustainability partners throughout the entire value chain. The goal is to secure the right suppliers for the long term by applying the same stringent selection process worldwide, regardless of whether they are based in developed or emerging markets.

A comprehensive evaluation covers sustainability performance and risks, as well as performance relating to safety, health, environment, social standards and fair business practices.

A successful example is the global chemical industry’s Together for Sustainability initiative, where 20 leading companies have joined forces to set the sustainability benchmark for supplier evaluation and build a strong community of sustainable suppliers internationally.


Notably, employees are the most important asset and success factor for any company. When it comes to implementing sustainability strategies, it is people who make the difference – through their dedication, skills, and knowledge. They contribute to sustainable development, both in their daily business lives and as members of society.

To increase employees’ engagement, a viable first step is sustainability training on the company’s sustainability strategy, targets and initiatives, history of sustainability, and global challenges.

The objective is to equip employees with deep knowledge and understanding, and enable them to contribute and engage various stakeholders through dialogue and collaboration.

Additionally, in an international environment, online and classroom training can be conducted using standardised training materials to ensure consistency.

With this approach, Henkel has trained more than 50,000 employees as Sustainability Ambassadors globally.

The next step is to motivate employees to make their contributions in their work and beyond. For example, employees can act as ambassadors at their sites through various initiatives, such as bring-your-own-cup, using centralised bins, and observing a daily earth hour during lunch time.

They can also visit schools to teach young children about sustainable behavior in their homes and in daily lives. Besides imparting knowledge, these school initiatives can encourage children to be an influencer among their family members and prepare them to be future sustainability leaders.

Additionally, companies can support employees in volunteer and community projects that make a positive social impact, by providing funds and granting paid days off from work.

In a comprehensive survey in 2014, our stakeholders’ responses highlighted the importance of integrating sustainability in all activities and ownership in addressing environmental impact.

It is thus clear to us that sustainability must be an integral part of corporate strategies and anchored in corporate cultures. This is fundamental to positioning companies and their employees at the forefront of driving sustainable development.

Thomas Holenia is president of Henkel Singapore and managing director of Henkel’s global supply chain in Singapore.

Source: CNA/sl