Sustainability is here to stay, or we may not be
Sustainability is the word of the moment in many organisations but what does it look like in practice? Koen De Munter, Quality and Environmental Officer at Zetes – a Panasonic company specialising in supply chain technology and people identification solutions, explains his organisation’s continuing journey.
Spend time today in any organisation and it will not be long before you hear the word Sustainability. But talking about it and putting it into practice are two very different things. So, what can companies do to proactively become more sustainable?
For me, sustainability is more than a trend, it is a movement. It is the management and protection of the Earth and its natural resources to support present and future generations. But in business, most importantly, I think of it as the balance of society, economy, and environment in a holistic way.
Over a decade ago, I started out as a Quality Officer at Zetes and over time my role has developed to incorporate both Environmental and Health & Safety responsibilities before the more recent extension to Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability. For me, it is a natural evolution of the role because each of these elements are important in achieving sustainability.
Many organisations believe they are starting from scratch when it comes to sustainability, but elements are usually already being carried out by organisations. For example, most already recycle their wastepaper and materials and do other things to mitigate their impact on the environment and enhance society. For the majority, it is a case of bringing these activities together, expanding upon them and addressing them as part of a holistic sustainable programme.
Extends beyond the four walls
One of the early lessons we learned at Zetes was that sustainability was not just linked to the activities of the business inside its four walls. It extends much further than that, up and down the supply chain and into the communities in which you operate.
Over the past two years, our sustainability journey has been a developing story. Working with Ecovadis, the sustainability rating service was an important step. Each year of evaluation at our Belgium operation has led to an increased sustainability rating and although there is still more to do, I’m proud to say that we have achieved the Gold Standard – placing us in the top 5% in our sector. We have now begun to replicate our approach in our Spanish and French operations. Our other European and African subsidiaries will start soon after.
The assessment looks at four main domains:
- Labour and human rights.
- Environmental efforts.
- Ethical initiatives. For example, supplier codes of conduct and how you verify that.
- Sustainable procurement.
We first established corporate policies for each of these areas and then began to put improvements into action. For example, we installed solar panels and more efficient lighting on the roof. We changed the vegetation around our buildings to incorporate local native planting and introduced beehives to increase biodiversity.
For our staff, we did simple things such as improving the ergonomics of our desks and chairs and providing free fruit daily through to significant steps such as providing additional benefits beyond legal requirements. We have also strengthened our ties with the community. As a technology company dedicated to improving the supply chain, the opportunity to help Belgium food banks collect supplies was a logical area for community support.
Sustainability with flexibility
Of course, not every territory has the same sustainability priorities. In Belgium, we have a focus on reducing commuting impact on the environment, where in Africa clean water and enhancing education levels shall be a priority. For the latter, we have already set up a foundation in South Africa. The Sechaba Foundation was launched in 2021 and has been contributing towards societal development by promoting education, ICT training and development initiatives. To help meet these needs we have implemented a core sustainability programme with local flexibilities to adapt to meet local priorities.
Moving forward, we have four core elements to our sustainability approach:
- Reducing our organisation’s environmental impact.
- Sensitivity and respect for human rights.
- Integrity covering fair operating practices, information security and protection of personal information, as well as the provision of high-quality products and services.
- Partnership. Maintaining a responsible supply chain and collaborating with key stakeholders and the community to benefit society and the environment.
We still have a long way to go but I believe these are the essential building blocks for a Sustainable business.