Friday 24 January 2020

Chris Martin: 'Business leaders must leave comfort zones to build more sustainable world'

 

Choices to make: Consumers can be expected to demand business makes ethical decisions – or they will shop elsewhere. Stock Image
Choices to make: Consumers can be expected to demand business makes ethical decisions – or they will shop elsewhere. Stock Image

Chris Martin

Earlier this year, more than 180 CEOs in the United States - including Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Apple's Tim Cook - came together to redefine how corporations should operate, calling for a shift from only prioritising profits to improving society by meeting the needs of all stakeholders.

Their motivation was to place an obligation on companies to move in step with the societies in which they operate. This requires a significant change in all our mindsets.

In Musgrave, I believe we have had a head start. The group, which owns brands including SuperValu and Centra, is a sixth-generation, 140-year-old family business with a decades-long presence in communities across the country. We have a deep understanding of what it means to be sustainable and open to new thinking.

Because sustainability is about more than recycling.

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As crucial as that issue is, sustainability is about nurturing and respecting people and the physical environment we live in.

The challenge now is for business to take stock and to understand that the bottom line doesn't just relate to profit. The stakes are higher now.

Customers are having their say - and when it comes to what it takes to sustain a healthy society they have certainly found their voices. In Musgrave, we are listening.

While our economy is performing well and business is good, there is a growing demand for companies to look at their impact on society.

We see this is in the area of climate change with our children out on the streets protesting, imploring those who hold political office to take meaningful action rather than engaging in vacuous rhetoric.

Those of us in business also have power. And with power comes responsibility.

As business leaders we must get out of our comfort zones, create a clear vision for the future and bring our people with us on that journey. We can move towards a horizon of hope with increased strength if we do so willingly and with optimism.

Change is never easy and the kind of change needed to improve our society is significant. In the retail industry, it requires us to look at every part of our business from rethinking the health benefits of the food we offer, decarbonising our operations, introducing a more circular use of resources and supporting our employees to live and work sustainably.

Plastics

We see this first-hand with the dependency on plastics and the health of the general public, just two problems which represent major challenges in our society.

These are embedded issues which require long term operational and behavioural transformation. Solving them also makes good business sense.

If action is not taken, people will opt to buy from sustainable brands and business will lose its licence to operate, with government eliminating practices or products that harm society.

Business leaders can get ahead of this. This requires taking an honest look in the mirror, reflecting on the negative impacts of their business and establishing a purpose that will put their business on a long-term sustainable growth path.

At Musgrave, we have already begun to play our part establishing our purpose with 'Growing Good Business', which means creating a sustainable, profitable business that benefits our shareholders as well as society. This is crucial to challenging ourselves to do the right thing, with a commitment to profit with purpose.

This commitment is not just something nice to point to.

Recently, we revealed our latest sustainability strategy - 'Taking Care of Our World' - which aims to leave a positive legacy for future generations and relies on 27 commitments in the areas of health, people, communities and the environment.

These include reducing our carbon footprint by 70pc by 2025; making 100pc of our own brand, fresh produce and in-store packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025; and ensuring that any food surplus is used to alleviate food poverty.

The fact of the matter is that the world is changing around us. It is why Government is committed to implementing the United Nations' 17 sustainable development goals, an ambitious set of targets covering the social, economic and environmental requirements for a sustainable future.

Poverty

They include poverty eradication, economic development, protection of the environment, access to health and education services, gender equality, peaceful societies and human rights.

If businesses do not adapt to this new reality, society will leave them behind. Climate change is the clear and obvious example in this regard.

Those of us in business have the power to deliver meaningful change. But no one business can solve climate change. We need universal commitment.

Making the changes required to deliver a sustainable economy will cost money, but not doing it will undoubtedly cost more in the long term.

I am confident that Musgrave will thrive because of our commitment to profit with purpose.

Yes, Musgrave is a business and we still need to drive sales, but putting the same emphasis on our purpose as our profitability is what will deliver long term sustainable growth.

Ultimately, our success depends on delivering high quality, healthy and inspiring food, supporting the SMEs that are the backbone of the economy be they are our retail partners or emerging food companies as well as contributing to the quality of life in our towns and villages.

We are entering a new era of what is expected of business. Regardless of what sector a company operates in, we all need to step back and realise the future for successful business will be found in the dual purpose of delivering profit and improving society.

Chris Martin is the out-going group chief executive of Musgrave, a role he held since 2005.

Irish Independent

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