Sir Ian Cheshire, who also chairs Debenhams, believes that the next generation of sustainability leaders will be the firms that embrace new business models.
Speaking at a Business in the Community (BITC) event as part of Responsible Business Week, he said: “You have to assume that [the low-carbon transition] is an opportunity. It’s going to happen to you anyway so you should frame it as an opportunity. If you don’t figure out how to be one of the winners, I can predict, quite confidently, that you’ll be one of the losers.
“This can’t just be about future-proofing our businesses because that is slightly defensive, the point is to be a future winner, and the opportunities for those who figure this out are huge. But it takes the courage to look into what your business might be, compared to what it is now. Ultimately this is about leadership.”
The event coincided with the launch of BITC’s new ‘smart growth’ report, which found that the adoption of science-based targets was one of the biggest challenges facing sustainability professionals.
The Carbon Trust’s chief executive Tom Delay, another event panellist, believes appropriate science-based targets could be a solution.
He said: “Boards struggle to create a narrative that links the business plan on the horizon, with the reality of future challenges.
“They recognise that this challenge is difficult, and in some cases, they hide it from the investor community, whose long-term buy-in they are seeking to get.
“Science-based targets will demonstrate to investors and employees that what we are doing is meaningful and consistent with long-term targets. It is, in essence, the anti-greenwash. But, something that became very obvious to us very quickly is that discussions around science-based targets is great but it doesn’t resonate with the financial community very broadly.”