Sustainable Innovation Strategies: the cases of Danone & Interface

 

Earlier Today, I attented the presentation of the book  “Sustainable Innovation Strategies – Exploring the cases of Danone and Interface” by Marc Vilanova, a Lecturer and Researcher at the Institute for Social Innovation at ESADE Business School, that organized the event, and Pax Dettoni, an independent consultant for social and human development projects.

The event was broadcasted live on the Social Innovation Institute website and on Twitter.

Here’s a summary of the key points of this interesting event, supported by some of  the tweets that were shared on the Internet and my personal comments.

  • The introduction speech was delivered by Antonio Fuertes, the Corporate Responsibility & Reputation Director at Gas Natural Fenosa, sponsor of the project and event.  One of the reasons companies like Danone and Interface are successful, he said, is that sustainability and innovation are part of their DNA, that’s been achieved through teamwork, by “touching the heart of their people”, by accepting that sometimes you have  to loose in the short term,  in order to find solutions to complex problems.  

 Antonio Fuertes made also  a very interesting point about innovation: what matters is not “what” to do but “how” to do it.

 

  • Miriam Turner, Innovations Director for InterfaceFLOR EMEA, explained how sustainability is part of the company’s core business, present in any innovation, in order to achieve its “Mission Zero” by 2020. This ambitious plan, in an industry that was among the main negative contributors to the environment few decades ago, is based on product innovation, a culture of “successful failure”, biomimicry, and a strategy of “Open Innovation”. 

 This is particularly remarkable, because if the outcome of innovation is often at the center of companies’ communication efforts & marketing strategy, the process that leads to innovation is usually a company’s best kept secret. By “sharing the innovations so they can reach their potential”, InterfaceFLOR is creating a successful ecosystem based on mutual trust with its partners.

Employees are at the heart of the strategy, as their employer is actively helping the internal entrepreneurs “to get out of the closet” and become Ambassadors, a program that supports the 2020 mission goals.

  • Franck Aimé, VP HR at Danone, shared the success story of a company that is a pioneer in Corporate Social Responsibility since its funder Antoine Riboud said at the beginning of the 1970´s that the responsibility of a company didn’t stop at the gate of the factory. Since then, the #1 world leader in dairy product has developed a 5 pillars strategy to support Health, People – its employees, Local Communities -particularly those who can’t afford the products, Nature & Life – the children.

A project that the company can be particularly proud of is their collaboration with Muhammad Yunus, the “father of microfinance”, in Bangladesh, creating a network of small production units, providing employment to women and ensuring that children can access to dairy products. This project was challenging for the company as it had to think “out of the box” to address challenges such as the size of the factory (typically a Danone factory produces 500 000 tons a day, there it was only 500), the milk (difficulties to get fresh milk) or the distribution model. In any case Franck Aimé insisted that this was not charity and that there was a business goal, even if the profitability was limited.

It’s interesting to note that the current economic downturn has not diminished the sustainability efforts of both companies, as they are convinced that sustainable innovation is an essential part of their business model.

 

  • Marc Vilanova closed the event with the presentation of the key findings of the book, that you’ll be able to access soon in a pdf version on the Institute website. Enjoy!

A successful sustainable innovative strategy requires:

Inspiring leaders that know how to engage employees and senior executive, and develop an organization that is both competitive and sustainable.

Leaders who are non-conformists, such as Ray Anderson, the founder of InterfaceFLor, and who are able to create a sustainable culture within their company, with sustainability being part of the business strategy, not just a nice accessory.

Sustainable products and services, with a long term product strategy.

An “innovative innovation” process.

An organization that allows “successful failures”.

More importantly: a genuine organization. Honesty and Transparency.

 

A sustainable innovation strategy is no longer a “nice to have”, it’s a must have.

Book Review : CSR for HR

Book review: CSR for HR by Elaine Cohen.

I’ve been following Elaine’s work for a while, mostly through her Twitter account – @ElaineCohen – and by attending a couple of virtual events on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) where she was a speaker. So when her book was recently published I didn’t miss the opportunity to read it. Full disclosure: I was one of the lucky winners of the CSRwire Book Giveaway last month. I’m a follower of their @csrwire Twitter account, and I received a copy of Elaine’s book signed by the Author.

CSR for HR is a very meaningful book by a knowledgable author whose effective storytelling provides the compelling evidence that “a partnership” – between HR and CSR – is needed to advance “responsible business practices“.

Although the Author has included few fictional characters to support her point, the situations, comments and people described in the book are absolutely realistic and will sound familiar to most of the readers. Along with those fictional characters, Elaine Cohen mentions and quotes some of the most well-known experts working in the fields of HR, CSR and Sustainability such as Julie Urlaub, Founder and Managing Partner at Taiga Company, Chris Jarvis from Realized Worth or Cathy Joseph. Finally, it’s nice to see that the Author has managed to stay away from any technical jargon and smartly uses humor and anecdotes all along the narrative.

The main character of the book, Sharon Black, is a young HR Director at a medium-sized software company in the UK. During a flight to the USA, where she’s going to attend a Learning & Development conference, Sharon meets Arena, a senior HR professional, on her way to the same conference, who engages her in a passionate conversation about CSR and Sustainability. Arena explains to Sharon, new to those concepts, why HR professionals’s involvement is not only important but also essential to develop a successful sustainability strategy and how HR people can elaborate and drive CSR actions that deliver both business gain as well as positive social and environmental impact.

Sharon, fascinated by Arena’s demonstration, quickly realizes that this meeting is one of those life-changing events. During the following weeks, we follow Sharon as she begins her professional and personal journey to CSR, becoming, according to her own words, a “CSR evangelist“. The book, as the author puts it, is a “wake up call” for the HR profession and a toolkit to help members of that profession becoming Corporate Social Human Resources (CSHR) Manager.
It’s also a perfect introduction to CSR and sustainability for anyone willing to develop their understanding of those concepts through concrete examples and support the advance of “responsible business practices”. However, for HR professionals, Elaine’s book is much more than an introduction: it’s a practical guide for designing and conducting specific actions that aim to build CSR credibility, which is, as the book points out, “dependent on delivery and not on rhetoric.”

The book describes a comprehensive range of actions that HR professionals can take to deliver sound CSR results, from Ethics, Human Rights, Employee engagement and reward to Green Teams and Volunteering Programs. For each of those topics, the Author offers real life examples, thoroughly presented, including useful facts and links for who’d like to get into further details. But the book should not be seen as a manual or a recipe book only. It highlights, in my opinion, something critical: what is essential is the process of building a sustainability strategy and defining the CSR activities that support it. Simply copying what others are doing is not an option, for the strategy, to be successful, must be authentic, not driven by PR considerations and therefore developed by each company based on their particular internal and external situations.

However, there’s no need to “reinvent the wheel”, as the achievements of the pioneers and practitioners in this field constitute a solid set of references for HR professionals who understand that, not only CSR is “here to stay”, but is an essential part of their job. The Author demonstrates through the book that cooperation and teamwork, both internal and external, are key in order to build a successful CSR roadmap and that what matters, as Arena tells Sharon, are “small steps and small wins“.

Yesterday I met up with my friend Victoria, a young and talented HR manager, working with a multinational IT company and I asked her what she knew about Corporate Social Responsibility and if it was part of her role and responsibilities. She, almost literally, answered: “I have to admit that I don’t know what corporate social responsibility involves. I’m not sure why it’s important. ” We enjoyed our Cookie Dough ice cream, chatting about other topics, before having a walk along the sea in Barcelona. When I went back home I ordered a copy of HR for CSR. It will be the perfect Christmas gift for Victoria and, hopefully, the beginning of a great journey!

CSR for HR can be ordered at : www.greenleaf-publishing.com/csr4hr