Setting a Good Example: The Responsibility of Business Leaders to Make a Difference

By Nicole Sparshott | 17 Mar 2020

Conscious leadership, which puts to test our responsibility and actions to save the environment and to do social good is becoming a growing force, and will ultimately be what defines us as leaders. Nicole Sparshott, CEO Unilever ANZ and global CEO of T2, discusses the new role of leaders in today’s purpose-driven economy.

I passionately believe that a good cup of tea can actually have a positive impact on people and the planet. At T2, we consider our impact in every step of our business, from the first leaf to the last sip.

As retailers, collectively we need to take action to meet not only the environmental and social responsibilities but to ensure that we have the trust and support of our consumers, whom without we would have no business. Our customers, our current and prospective employees alike are showing that they only want to engage with brands that are truly committed to sustainability goals across planet, people and product, and there is no turning away from that.

As business leaders, the responsibility to make a difference is an immense yet rewarding task, customers want to see that you’re actually ‘walking the walk’. So how can we as Australian retailers be sure we are balancing profit with purpose to achieve these goals? As business leaders we should ask ourselves the following questions:

1. Define your brand’s purpose

According to the Harvard Business School, companies with high levels of purpose outperform the market by 5 percent–7 percent per year, on par with companies with best-in-class governance and innovative capabilities. They also grow faster and have higher profitability.

From the start, have a clear purpose that your consumers and employees can identify. In a rapidly changing retail environment, companies need an anchoring ideology that guides day-to-day practices and can always be reflected back to so that when taking a stance on an issue, organisations can stick to their philosophy in a way that represents the inherent voice of the company. At T2, our core purpose is to be different; think different, drink different. This echoes through our decision-making process and drives our mission be unique, inclusive and innovative.

2. Ethically audit your brand

With companies living up to a greater responsibility to have a mutual focus on profit and purpose, the mission of B Corp accreditation was born, to redefine the nature of business. The B Corp certification is not a certification you can buy; you have to earn it by the way you operate, and you need to provide strong evidence by a pretty rigorous assessment period.

When we started this journey two years ago, our intention was to be part of a community of businesses that wanted to be a force for good. Throughout the assessment, we examined every corner of the business, looking for ways to reduce our impact on the planet and be the champions of change. We hit other major sustainability milestones, like achieving a carbon-neutral status for our entire operation in 2019.

Over 90 percent of T2 packaging is now recyclable, reusable or compostable, on track to reach 100 percent in 2021. As an example, T2 retail bags are now made from uncoated paper without any plastic lamentation, making them 100% recyclable – which will divert over 100 tonnes of waste from landfill annually.

3. Be Diverse, Be Innovative

Inclusion at its best is expressed as a person feeling safe and empowered to speak up, which enables them to grow and do their best work. Additionally, inclusion coupled with diversity offers shared goals and equal importance. Deloitte’s 2017 study presents the simple formula for a purposeful workplace: Diversity and Inclusion = improved business outcomes.

Celebrating difference to make a difference is our mission at T2. For us diversity in all forms is what makes the world more beautiful, and what we exist to do is unite the world for good by promoting social inclusion and belonging for some of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in our society.

What I really love about being part of the B Corp community, is that is has helped us focus on our diversity inclusion and people practices within a great framework. Implementing a refreshed recruitment strategy such as blind recruitment is just one of the ways we are initiating people practices.

Australian retailers have a unique opportunity— to make a difference and show customers and employees that they are balancing profit with purpose through responsible and value-driven practices. It can be an overwhelming task, but by using a structural approach and initiating processes like blind recruiting and ethical auditing, retailers can have a powerful and purposeful relationship with their customers and community.

Nicole Sparshott is CEO of Unilever Australia and New Zealand and Global CEO of T2. T2, the luxury tea brand, is one of the largest Australian retailers to have achieved the prestigious global B Corp certification, marking the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability which balances profit and purpose.

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