Introducing Generation Glasgow and the quest to tackle barriers to change

The science is irrefutable. 

For a thriving environmental, social and economic future, only one direction is possible: toward an economy that operates within the capacity of the planet. Between this year’s climate disasters, the stark findings of the IPCC’s sixth assessment report and the IPBES’s Global Assessment on Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, no further confirmation is needed. The world is facing massive threats to humanity. 

While policymakers fail to find common ground to ignite change, many top business leaders are making moves to put their companies on a more sustainable trajectory. They increasingly see a bold transition as necessary to maintain their license to operate and recognize that the future of business is a sustainable one. This is a considerable shift from where business was a mere five years ago — and a sign that things are headed in the right direction.

But we’ve yet to see transformation at the necessary scale and speed. The gap between where we are and where we need to be is still far too wide. It begs the question: if businesses have the power to effect change faster than government, then what’s preventing adequate progress on preventing catastrophic climate-change scenarios? 

It’s a worrisome thought. But rather than indicate impending doom, it’s a signal that something isn’t clicking. Could it be that business leaders don’t actually know what it will take to deliver on big commitments? Are they struggling to tackle the barriers to change? Or does the challenge seem far too massive and beyond their control? One thing is certain: there will be no transformation without courage. Business leaders must have grit and be willing to go against the status quo and call out obstacles along the way. 

The clock is ticking and we’re past the point of pledges. It’s time for action and results. 

Isabelle Grosmaitre, Founder of Goodness & Co; Dimitri Caudrelier, CEO of Quantis; and Emmanuelle Duez, Founder of The Boson Project, believed that designing solutions to bring about meaningful change at the scale needed would require a deep understanding of the barriers to transformation leaders face. They’ve joined forces to identify and better understand these obstacles — and help leaders overcome them.

Over the course of the past year, the trio interviewed dozens of CEOs and C-level executives from leading companies across industries to uncover the major challenges leaders face in driving sustainable transformation at the heart of their organizations, the key levers for change and how confident they feel about the sustainability trajectory we’re on. 

Here are a few things they heard. 

True transformation starts with transformative culture.

Even the most ambitious commitments and strategies will amount to little more than lip service without internal mobilization to put those words into action. For change to grab hold, it needs to be human-centered. Businesses must take a critical look at how their current culture may be sabotaging their progress. Some of the biggest opportunities for improvement lie in giving younger generations and diverse voices a seat at the leadership table, fostering a culture that welcomes bold, new ideas and training leaders and employees to unlearn business practices that undermine these goals and replace them with behaviors that support them.

The new coopetition: collaboration isn’t optional.

Transformation requires all hands on deck, but also strong coalitions extending beyond the company’s walls. This calls for leaving the “go it alone” mindset behind and rethinking traditional notions of collaboration. Building bridges with competitors, non-governmental organizations and local communities is increasingly recognized by business leaders as a must-have. It takes courage to step out of the silo and seek new partnerships, but these coalitions are critical to fill knowledge gaps, pool efforts and resources, bring in outside minds to challenge business and generally create a more powerful force for change.

It’s time to redesign corporate governance structures.

Though sustainability is a strategic and operational matter, few companies have organizational structures in place designed to treat it as a material business issue. If leaders are to drive ambitious agendas, requiring a complete transformation of their companies, corporate governance needs a shakeup, too. Leaders interviewed identified the need to transition from a shareholder to a stakeholder economy — one in which a company’s mission serves people and the planet. The challenge is in aligning board members, shareholders and top management with this vision, too.

The importance of finance can’t be overstated.

Over the past few years, there’s been a true wake-up call in the financial sector — from a few isolated investors raising the alarm, to the broad awareness today of the need for a paradigm shift. There’s extraordinary momentum, but the urgent task is capitalizing on this mobilization — particularly visible at COP26 — and making it actionable. Those interviewed pointed to the need for redefining performance to include extra-financial value, shareholder commitments to financing the transition and harmonizing reporting standards.

Government needs to set expectations and incentivize change.

Nearly all of those interviewed identified government support as the critical lever for creating systems-level change. The reason? It levels the playing field by pulling up industry laggards, sends positive signals to first movers and provides real incentives to encourage sustainable business models. Business needs to forge greater partnership with government to collaborate on stronger, common — versus patchwork — standards and ensure the right regulatory frameworks are in place to facilitate the shift.

The interviews revealed that business leaders are facing similar barriers — largely of a structural and cultural nature — as they work to transform their organizations. And for some, it was the first time they were speaking openly and frankly about these obstacles. This presented a clear opportunity for leaders to come together to share their experiences, discuss challenges and co-create solutions that tackle their most prevalent common pain points. 

These discussions will shape Generation Glasgow, a task force bringing together business leaders eager to move past the political theater of the global climate conference circuit and get to work blazing a trail to transformation. Initial members are from leading companies from the food, fashion, cosmetics + personal care, financial, hospitality and insurance industries, with combined revenues of €123bn. More than 30 organizations are represented, including; Accor, Aigle, Bel, Camif, Chanel, Decathlon, Ecological Awakening, Eurazeo, Groupe Rocher, HEC Paris, Interface, L’Oréal, Maif, Mars, Schneider Electric, Veolia, Time for the Planet, Jeunes Ambassadeurs pour le Climat (JAC) and more. Also interviewed were sustainability thought leaders, including; Bertrand Badré, Dominique Bourg, Emmanuel Faber and others.

The common thread? A shared bias to action when it comes to one of the greatest existential issues facing our society. 

Stay tuned to hear what’s next for Generation Glasgow in early 2022.