Driving Sustainability from the Boardroom

B Lab Switzerland's Session at Davos 2024

On January 16th, 2024, at the SDG Tent in Davos, B Lab Switzerland, in collaboration with InTent and its partner IMD, hosted a pivotal SBA2030 session titled “Boardroom Approaches to Cultivating Harmony in a Fragmented World”. This landmark meeting marked a significant milestone in boardroom engagement, underscoring the vital role of corporate governance in addressing global challenges. It brought together over 180 Swiss board members, policymakers, and entrepreneurs from a variety of sectors during the World Economic Forum 2024. 

On January 16th, 2024, at the SDG Tent in Davos, B Lab Switzerland,

The session was more than just a meeting; it was a collective call to action, reflecting B Lab’s commitment to shaping policy and encouraging a unified approach to sustainability and ethical business practices. ‘ The gathering underscored the need for collective action and collaboration among business leaders, particularly those leading B Corp certified companies, to navigate and bring together efforts in a fragmented global landscape,’ stated Jonathan Normand, CEO of B Lab (Switzerland) Foundation. He further added, ‘This sets a new precedent for boardroom leadership in sustainable and inclusive governance at a time when purpose and regulation are under intense scrutiny. Now more than ever, actions rooted in a science-based understanding of planetary boundaries are crucial to maintain a safe and just operating space.

 © Pictures : InTent & Kaosmovies

8 key takeaways and the key insights from the table discussions participants held during the event

1. Sustainability starts at the top.

The role of the board is to craft a company’s future, so it is essential that boards start talking about sustainability.

Insight by André Hoffmann, Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors, Roche Holding Ltd & Member of the Board of Trustees, The World Economic Forum

2. Sustainable businesses need a legal framework to innovate and thrive.

The absence of a clear legal framework in Switzerland often leaves the sustainability efforts of Swiss businesses unrecognized. The Alliance for Sustainable Enterprises proposed legal structure seeks to highlight and amplify sustainable practices.

Insight by Jonathan Normand, CEO of the B Lab Switzerland Foundation

3. We need to shift from a shareholder- to a stakeholder-driven approach.

Companies need to take responsibility from the first to the last mile of their value chain – millions of livelihoods are at stake – and build resilience not just efficiency by taking account of their impact on all stakeholders.

Insight by Kathrin Amacker, Board President at Fairtrade Max Havelaar and Board Member at the B Lab Switzerland Foundation

4. Value chain traceability and collaboration are vital.

Only with full traceability can firms really understand their full impact – which mostly lies outside their company somewhere else in the value chain. And finding solutions requires collaboration with suppliers and competitors,

Insight by Adrien Geiger, CSO at Groupe L’OCCITANE

5. Sustainability transparency and reporting is only going to grow. Get ahead and don’t be a laggard.

Regulation is only going to increase – both from Swiss law and also through customers covered by European reporting requirements. Be proactive and go beyond just doing the bare minimum non-financial reporting requirements and build the reporting capability in-house to do so.

Insight by Professor Jean-Luc Chenaux, Partner Kellerhals Carrard

6. Every CSO should aim to make their role redundant.

To make the most of the sustainability opportunity, we cannot rely on the CSO; sustainability must be at the core of each role. Integrating sustainability in the strategy, rethinking performance measurement (KPIs) and responsibilities to include sustainability, and building leaders able to engage their whole ecosystem are key.

Insight by Liza Engel, Managing Partner & Chief Sustainability Officer, Deloitte Switzerland

7. Sustainability is an opportunity and firms need to communicate their progress.

We have to stop looking at nature as something damaged which we must pay to restore but rather seize the opportunity of regenerating nature. The biggest problem today in sustainability investing is green-hushing (making no claims) rather than green-washing (claiming too much) because of the risk of firms being criticized for not being sustainable enough.

Insight by Patrick Odier, President of Swiss Sustainable Finance & Chairman of Building Bridges

8. Sustainability literacy is as important as financial literacy.

If you are not sustainability literate, you should not be on the board. Boards must get fully literate on sustainability by educating themselves.
Insight by Mirjam Staub-Bisang, CEO at BlackRock Switzerland

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If you want to read more about what has been discussed in detail during the session at each table, please continue reading:

Detailed Insights from the Table Discussions

Read below the key insights from the table session that participants held during the session. The session was moderated by Knut Haanaes, Sustainability Professor at IMD. The business school has partnered with our SBA2030 initiative and generously provided four tailored «One Day Course on Sustainability for Boards» Masterclasses, attended by over 180 Swiss Board Members in 2023.

VALUE CHAIN & PARTNERSHIP

Table hosts: Valentina Gizzi, Dieter Zinnbauer & Nicolas Freudiger

  • Engaging the value chain needs traceability, partnership and even the creation of new entities together. 

  • It requires commitment from top management , but also be prepared to embrace co-creation vs leading an initiative.

  • Lobbying is important to create the right playing field for companies in the sector. 

EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

Table hosts: Laura Perret & Christophe Barman

  • Have a sustainable purpose which employees can connect with. Strategies from the top, but ideas from the team.

  • Creating networks across organization in a bigger ecosystem- emphasis on young people, next generation.

  • Consider distribute roles and authority throughout the organization – give the right info voting rights to teams and adopt a Objective and Key results (OKR) approach.

LEADERSHIP & VALUES

Table hosts: Katrin Lenzlinger, Lynda Mansson & Caitlin Kraft-Buchman

  • A true sustainability leader needs conviction, to be trusted and have a compelling positive narrative.

  • Corporate values should be developed in participative manner not top down and to be meaningful they aid decision-making.

  • We need everyone engaged in sustainability – not just women. But women need an equal voice at exec level and boards so we need to work on promotability of women – especially women with P&L responsibility.  

GOVERNANCE & BOARD STRATEGIES

Table hosts: Giulia Neri-Castracane, Sophie Michaud & Michel Jaccard 

  • No delegation of sustainability by the main board. Kill sustainability committees!

  • The board shall conduct an honest assessment of the corporate strategy with regard to its sustainability “compatibility”. Sectors with the biggest impact should be regulated (energy, building).

  • Regulation: We need a voluntary status for sustainable enterprises (a legal one) – how to go faster?  Sectors with the biggest impact should be regulated (energy, building).

SUSTAINABILITY & BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES

Table hosts: Isabelle Cohen, Olivier Ferrari & Vincent Oswald

  • Set your vision, open your mind and seek out new opportunities.  Long term opportunities must be sustainable to be resilient.

  • Requires education and changing the culture of the board + C suite – trust and transparency.  Assess the risk of a new idea but also the risk of not doing it.

  • Invest in innovation – it takes time.  Boards need to choose a pool of disruptive innovative solutions and not a single one and adopt long-term thinking and infuse this in the organization.

  • To increase investment in sustainable tech, we need partnerships between large groups and startups and tax exemption for innovation technology investment. 

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