SUSTAINABLE FUTURES EUROPEAN EXECUTIVE SUMMARY REPORT
An insight into European sustainability trends in business
Sustainable businesses are crucial to future growth and prosperity. InterfaceFLOR’s European
reports on sustainability trends in business demonstrate that now and in the future, successful
companies are those whose Corporate Social Responsibility and growth targets are as one, and
where sustainable business practices are part of the organisation’s DNA, not a bolt-on driven by
Interface’s path towards becoming a totally sustainable business has been well documented. We
have been single-mindedly walking down that route for more than 13 years with one objective in
mind – achieving a zero environmental footprint by the year 2020. We call it Mission Zero, and it
is far from being “Mission Impossible”.
It is clear that without the costs we have avoided through sustainable initiatives, which total more
than $336m since 1996, we might not be in business today. Looking ahead, our target growth is
10% year-on-year, which we will achieve by considering the environmental impact of every
creative, manufacturing and management decision that we make. We are aggressively taking that
message to our customers, our suppliers and to government.
We don’t think we have all the answers. Far from it. But we want to share what we and our peers
know. We have asked some of the leading experts from around Europe for their opinions, their
input, and their strategic thinking on the same themes. It is only by imparting their knowledge,
and learning from one another that we can all move forward.
We asked our experts three fundamental questions:
• What significance will sustainable development have for society, companies and the
individual in the future?
• Who can and should create the changes towards a more sustainable future – and what are
• What actions can and should be carried out here and now, in the near future and in the
Our Sustainable Futures Reports for the UK, France, The Netherlands, Germany and Denmark
detail actions that organisations can start to put in place to deliver a sustainable business plan.
They provide even more direction to businesses who truly believe in tomorrow, and want to put
something back into the environment they serve.
President and CEO, InterfaceFLOR Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Contributions for this summary have been gathered from some of the leading experts in the fields
of business, human resources, and the environment, from the UK, Germany, the Netherlands,
Denmark and France. They examined trends in sustainable businesses across key areas of
leadership, marketing, communications, business environment, employee engagement and design
The UN Climate Report, issued in January this year, was a wake-up call for many governments
over the state of the world’s ecology. It reinforced what many had known for a long time, that our
actions are having an ever increasing and deteriorating effect on the planet.
The report expressed concern that human actions were leading to an irreversible shift in global
temperatures and a rise in sea levels that will have effects on generations to come, and it issued a
warning about the “smoking gun” of the consequences if nothing is done now.
Overwhelmingly however, the necessity to change is not a threat, but a chance to preserve and
increase our prosperity using new ideas and technologies. The following summary of the
InterfaceFLOR Sustainable Futures Reports demonstrates that sustainability is not an isolated
goal, but a continuing process of change, offering more opportunity than risk.
Key trends and findings are as follows:
Leadership: Less is more
The key to effective sustainable leadership in European business is the recognition that profit and
planet are not mutually exclusive – and that the way forward is to let the entrepreneurs and
creatives lead the strategy, rather than risk the isolated thinking of the finance function.
All companies have one major goal and that is to make profit. But this idea is not irreconcilable
with a balanced view of global markets and a measured approach as to how the world’s natural
resources can be deployed. Companies are starting to take a role in their relationship with their
suppliers and take the lead in fairly, justly, paying producers, farmers and manufacturers around
Europe, as with the rest of the world, is well into a phase of “de-carbonisation” of the economy –
using more fossil fuel resources than the world can ever replace. The growth in the development
of efficient technologies across Europe – from energy generation to transportation – shows that
companies are on the right track. However, the next step is the realisation that exploiting these
technological advances will be a crucial aspect of successful management.
The agents of change in a business are about winning the “war for talent” for staff, by encouraging
and fostering a positive network where the best idea, with the best talent, for the best price, can
combine to produce the best sustainable results. But is leadership on sustainability issues really
coming from the top? The agents of change are just as likely to be ethically driven
enthusiasts, social entrepreneurs, critical grassroots supporters and political
pioneers. So who are the real leaders - the business bosses or the activists?
Marketing: From persuasion to education
In order to make sustainability live within and outside the organisation, marketing needs to stop
thinking of itself as a niche proposition and to propel itself into the mainstream, educating as well
as promoting the market advantage of corporate social responsibility. The idea of CSR must
increasingly be turned into action, and marketers are best placed to demonstrate this.
Marketing and consumerism have often been blamed for the destruction of traditional societies
and exploiting the Third World. A new dynamic is emerging where the marketer does not have to
assume that the customer is always right, nor that the customer is king. Now marketing must take
the lead and educate customers that sustainability is the way forward.
Marketing must also play some role in connecting the consumption of consumer products with
the social and environmental problems they create. Crucially, companies must not make a shallow
commitment to sustainability. Credibility and authenticity are the basic requirements for a
sustainable marketing campaign and it is not enough to communicate that message without any
kind of change in company attitudes or methods of working.
Communication: The art of getting personal
European businesses cannot afford to sit still and rely on old fashioned marketing or
communications networks. They also need to recognise that sustainability is a message that is
being spread at a personal level.
Internet broadcasting site You Tube is reportedly streaming more than 30 million videos a day.
Social networking site MySpace has 10 million members (mostly teens and young adults), with a
further 250,000 joining daily. Blogs are being created at the rate of 80,000 a day.
Today, social computing and the growth of the Web 2.0 world mean that a company’s reputation
can be won or lost in chat rooms. Peer-to-peer networks are becoming one of the most influential
factors on the reasons why people buy goods and services – or similarly switch off from buying
them. Getting personal is the latest stage of the evolution of corporate social responsibility.
Companies started this approach when, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a few of them began to
issue reports on their responsible approach to business. By 2004 that number had grown to 1,800
worldwide, with 81% of all FTSE100 companies producing CSR reports. Companies now have
entire departments devoted to the role of CSR, with a remit solely dedicated to working on
initiatives that will improve the way the organisation is perceived.
Ultimately however, it is those companies that have personalities and beliefs, and can validate
them, that are the ones customers will listen to. But crucially, what companies are still not doing
is communicating those beliefs in a way that is personal enough.
Business and the environment: Putting a price on emotion
The world will have to face up to the fact that we cannot give future generations
the same conditions of life that we have given ourselves. Resources are not finite
and a limit must be placed on our current rate of consumption. The major debate
is therefore what should we do to limit demand? Is legislation the right way to go
about it or should we introduce the notion that we can influence the consumers to change their
Some of the reports’ commentators argue strongly that it was only EU legislation in 2001 that
stopped companies deducting costs for bribery from company accounts. On the other hand,
ecology and fair trade have been shown to live hand-in-hand as consumers start to lead the
change towards more ethically focused goods.
Consumers are increasingly prepared to pay the price premium because they know goods have
been produced ethically and fairly. Fairtrade® is one of the first major schemes to lead this trend –
by selling products marketed on the back of ethical fairness. Now, some of the major banks are
marketing their services on the back of ethical investments, guaranteeing that investors’ money
will not support the arms trade or oil exploration schemes in protected environments.
Europe’s businesses have responsibilities which come with operating in an increasingly
connected world. Greenhouse gases cause global warming worldwide. The southern hemisphere
suffers because of the actions of the industrialised nations in the northern hemisphere. So
companies need to be aware that their actions have an impact on everyone.
While voluntary action is the best way forward, most companies are bracing themselves for the
introduction of legislation that makes compliance compulsory. A recent German survey showed
that companies are already preparing themselves for a new raft of environmental legislation, but
three quarters also expect to be able to cope with the effects without any significant economic
Employee engagement: Partners in a shared journey
Europe lives in a knowledge-driven economy where employees earn their living from utilising the
information they have at their disposal. By the very nature of their work, knowledge workers are
more than ever motivated by the alignment of their organisation’s values with their own.
To make progress on their sustainable path, companies need the cooperation, willingness and
active participation of the entire workforce. The values of the company must be carefully
explained. Then, and only then, can a company embrace the ethos of sustainability.
Many employers are beginning to measure the link between employee engagement, customer
satisfaction and improved profitability and productivity – and employees engaged in the
company’s sustainable journey are more likely to have an impact on company profitability. The
approach proves that retaining existing customers is much more cost-effective than acquiring
new ones and the “service climate” created by committed employees who can convey the
sustainability message is a central driver of success.
Tomorrow’s employers need to understand their employees better by auditing their attitudes.
They need to devise mechanisms with employees that help motivate and engage their labour, and
they need to help measure those responses to see how effective the mechanisms have been.
Design and innovation: Fresh eyes, fresh thinking
Design and product innovation need to look at their contribution to business growth with fresh
eyes, not just focus on technique and cost.
By the year 2050 more than 85% of the world’s population will be living in what are now
developing countries. Water will become scarcer as populations increase. The demands for crops
and food sources will grow.
All this will mean a change in the way companies design and develop products. Companies in the
developed world have already started, with the hybrid electric car the first real example of how
we are cutting down the dependence on oil for transport.
But businesses will need to shift their output to meet the new markets. If the world’s population
is expanding so rapidly in the Third World, then products will need to shift to accommodate or
improve their needs. Companies may need to gear their R&D spend to relatively low income
populations, or what is described as the “bottom of the pyramid” approach, leading to a new
emphasis to design products and services that are affordable and which will improve their quality
Designers will also need to look very closely at the materials they are using. If there is a scarcity of
resources, then the emphasis must be on efficient design and the removal of any elements of over-
engineering in a product. It costs manufacturers more, their customers more, and the
environment more. Products should be fit for purpose and no more.
In many ways, designers will have to view the world from a fresh angle, as though they are
looking at the world with a fresh pair of eyes.
The sustainable journey is made possible through the accumulation of many individual actions –
actions which any and every business can take. Across Europe, much rethinking and realignment
is clearly taking place in terms of how companies develop their businesses and their products
within the context of corporate social responsibility, and how they bring their workforce with
them. Over the next few years vision, planning, listening – and not a little courage – are needed to
ensure that sustainability is indivisible from the organisation, and that future growth and
prosperity can be realised as a result.
• Stephanie Draper – Forum For The Future
• James Goodman – Forum For The Future
• Dr Ingrid Kajzer Mitchell – University of Strathclyde Business School
• Solitaire Townsend – Futerra
• Sophy Bristow – The Climate Group
• Nick Isles – The Work Foundation
• Beatrice Otto – World Business Council for Sustainable Development
• Anne-Marie Sargueil – French Institute of Design
• Philippe Turin – ECO DEV
• Romain Thévenet – eco-designer
• Jean-Marc Brunet – Max Havelaar France
• Eric Eustache – Planète Urgence
• Anne Ged – Solving France
• Laurence Lecoeur – ESSEC Emma
• Prof. Dr. Peter Hennicke – Wuppertal Institute
• Prof. Dr. Konrad Zerr – University of Applied Sciences Pforzheim
• Prof. Dr. Waldemar Pförtsch – University of Applied Sciences Pforzheim
• Steffen Heil – Institute for Social Marketing
• Prof. Dr. Maximilian Gege – B.A.U.M. e.V.
• Martin Oldeland – B.A.U.M. e.V.
• Erich Weber – Foundation of Labor and Environment of the Industrial Union of Mining,
Chemical Industry, Energy
• Jurek M. Slapa – J.S.K. Dusseldorf
• Anastasia Kellerman – Sustainability Unlimited
• Rob van Tilburg – DHV
• Mark van der Veen – HES Hogeschool for Economical Studies in Amsterdam
• Professor George Molenkamp – KPMG Sustainability
• Ellen van den Adel – Work on Progress
• Tania Ellis – Author and business advisor
• Niels Due Jensen – Grundfos, chairman for the Danish Council for Sustainable Business
• Kim Carstensen – WWF
• Anne Skare Nielsen – Future Navigator
• Claus Stig Petersen – Novozymes
• Jens Berthelsen – Global Advice Network
• Henrik Wenzel – University of Southern Denmark
• Mads Krage – Max Havelaar
• Søren Hvilshøj – Grontmij Carl Bro
• Karin Laljani – InterfaceFLOR
• Mads Øvlisen – FN Global Compact
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