A few weeks ago, a newspaper reported that environmental and social criteria are now being used to calculate short-term bonuses at Nestlé, and that Nestlé wants to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and operate in a climate-neutral manner by 2050. CEO Mark Schneider has put sustainability high on the agenda, the report said. Good news.
And then comes this sentence: "Schneider sees the effort as a competitive advantage for Nestlé, not a philanthropic endeavor."
That's a highly interesting delineation. How could it be put into other words? Perhaps something like, "Don't worry, we haven't gone among the good guys or gone esoteric." Or, "We'd like to take this opportunity to make it clear that we're still exclusively in it for the money, we don't care about anything else."
Why do managers actually have to resist so vehemently against simply meaning well for once? What's wrong with recognizing that there is a bigger picture and that the responsibility for corporate action extends to that bigger picture?
The prevailing implicit message still seems to be, "Well, we'd never just do it voluntarily, we only do it because we're forced to." And indeed, the pressure to focus on sustainability is now coming vigorously not only from customers and regulators, but also from investors.
That's a good thing, because it's forcing even those who would actually never do it voluntarily to address the issue. But they won't be the ones to really restore confidence in the leadership elite of large corporations, because then they do somehow give the impression of only caring about the environment under protest.
All right, this may be a little harsh. After all, we're in an interesting place right now: Sustainability has made it inside the economic system – for now as an extrinsic factor in the form of pressure from various directions. And in fact, many companies are now foregoing certain businesses that could well be profitable in the short term for reasons of sustainability. So, things are not so bad.
What would the next step of integration look like? It would perhaps be reflected in statements that read: "We are doing this – and not primarily with a view to our business success, but because we believe it is the right thing to do.”
Admittedly, if sustainability does not exert any economic pressure at all, this is likely to remain utopian. It probably won't work entirely without a push, and it probably won't work entirely without regulation either. But the current forces of influence open the door to the possibility that intrinsic motivation for sustainability no longer exposes one to the suspicion of neglecting economic success. On the contrary, it could become highly compatible with the economic system and perhaps even the next differentiator. Then even top managers would be able to admit that they are a little bit philanthropic without fearing for their jobs or their reputation among colleagues.
That would be quite okay, don't you think? Anyway, it wouldn't hurt the general image of managers, and the many representatives of this profession who have been longing to integrate this dimension in their hearts for a long time could breathe a sigh of relief and flourish.
Utopia? Perhaps. But you know this wisdom: not all who have dreams get to the top. But all those who are at the top had dreams. So: feel free to align your business decisions with your moral compass. It should be worth it.