Why sustainability delivers a competitive advantage

Alanna Turpin
Why sustainability offers a competitive advantage HERO 2

A quiet revolution is taking place. Last year, the Business Roundtable ­­– an association of CEOs of America’s largest companies ­– redefined what it sees as the purpose of business and corporations. For the last 22 years, its position on the purpose of a company was based on Milton Friedman’s economic theory and the pursuit of profit for the sole benefit of stockholders. Now, it says the responsibility of a business is to create customer value, invest in employees, nurture fair and ethical supplier relationships, and care for the community and environment. While long-term shareholder value still features, it’s as if capitalism discovered it had a heart.

The calls for positive change are getting louder, so it’s hardly surprising that companies are hearing them. More than public demonstrations or the desperate pleas by Greta Thunberg, businesses are paying attention to what employees and customers, both current and potential, are saying.

Climate anxiety is a reality everywhere, including in the oil-producing Middle East, as several recent surveys show. Unsurprisingly, employees and job applicants display high levels of affinity with sustainability issues and seek employers that share and act on these concerns. A recent US survey showed that 70% of employees were more likely to choose to work at a company with a strong environmental agenda, and 70% of respondents agreeing that a strong sustainability plan would entice them to stay with a company longer.

Omnicom Media Group MENA has long focused on its employee value proposition and developed a caring approach to talent management. It’s making it easier to attract and retain top talent with high engagement levels.

Over half of new recruits report that our CSR initiatives, wellness program or environmental efforts – which we share on social media – enticed them to apply to our agencies. An ethical, caring and safe place to work also translates into higher levels of loyalty. We have an employee wellness and cultural diversity program, as well as a comprehensive CSR and environmental strategy. One of the ways we promote well-being is by giving back to our communities through regular volunteering opportunities. Our diversity program also facilitates the celebration and better understanding of all the cultures within our group.

Having a sustainability strategy that echoes the values of employees goes a long way to elevate engagement, affinity and loyalty

Last year’s Great Place to Work Institute’s survey found that 90% of our employees felt good about how we contribute to the community and, as a result, 90% of them stated they were proud to work here. Having a sustainability strategy that echoes the values of employees goes a long way to elevate engagement, affinity and loyalty. In 2018, our attrition rate stood at 5%, below the UAE average of 8%. Happiness at work also contributes to productivity. According to the Happiness and Productivity Report, happy employees are 20% more productive, particularly when leadership has invested sincerely in promoting happiness and well-being at work.

Not only does this approach make business sense internally, it also makes financial sense externally. This doesn’t make it less authentic or meaningful. Companies use CSR, sustainability and strong corporate governance as indicators of businesses with which they want to partner. In other words: in a highly competitive world, a solid sustainability program is a competitive advantage.

Today, six in ten requests for proposal (RFPs) require us to detail our CSR and sustainability strategies, programs and results, as well as our corporate governance, as part of the selection process. We report our sustainability activities according to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework for no other reason than having a reliable assessment of our efforts.

This approach also helps in nurturing and solidifying relationships. We have partnered with clients in their own sustainability activities and invited them to join us in ours. It has strengthened the bond at a personal level and the exchange of information, advice and experience takes the conversation between organizations to another level. We’ve institutionalized this by joining other like-minded companies in industry groups, such as the Dubai Chamber of Commerce’s Dubai Sustainability Network and the Sustainability Majlis.

It goes further. HSBC recently reported that 86% of Middle Eastern investors expect to substantially move capital either from activities challenged by environmental and social issues, or towards activities that promote positive environmental or social outcomes. Environmental and societal concerns are now shaping investment decisions.

The critical aspects of a sustainability strategy in business are authenticity and accountability. Greenwashing will only go so far before it backfires, but a meaningful and objective approach will prove a magnet for talent and business alike. The good news is that the trend shows no sign of slowing, just like climate change, so it’s urgent that all like-minded individuals and companies join forces.

Wear your sustainability badge with pride.