Why sustainability needs to be every business’ top priority: An interview with Miro Principal Product Evangelist Bram Jonker

Whether it’s reported in the news or discussed in the boardroom, environmental concerns are top of mind these days — and sustainability is increasingly influencing how companies do business, what projects they’re prioritizing, and how they plan for the future. We spoke with Bram Jonker, Principal Product Evangelist at Miro, to learn how organizations are leveraging innovation to tackle this complex challenge. 

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is sustainability when it comes to business practices? 

I would expand the definition of “sustainability” to include environmental, social, and governance (ESG). When most companies talk about sustainability, they touch upon the environmental factors and leave out the other two, which is a missed opportunity. For instance, if you implement environmentally friendly production practices but don’t pay a living wage to your employees, you’re not fully contributing to a better, more stable society.

Why is sustainability a hot topic in business right now?

One of the big reasons sustainability is top of mind for businesses right now is new regulations, especially the European Union (EU)’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, which states that public and large private organizations with a presence in the EU must disclose how their business activities impact people and the environment. That means details about their carbon footprint, including that of their vendors, will be publicly reported.

Some corporations used to get away with greenwashing, making sustainability claims that bolstered their image without making a real environmental impact. These new regulations offer more oversight and require companies to disclose not just the impact of ESG initiatives on their bottom line, but on broader societal factors, like human rights, fair business practices, and the environment.

Besides regulatory compliance, what other incentives do businesses have to prioritize sustainability?

Businesses that don’t prioritize ESG risk harming their reputation, which hinders their ability to win customers and attract top talent. Employees want to be proud of their employer. Younger generations, in particular, want to work for businesses that make the world a better place, not those that have a reputation for treating people and the planet poorly. 

And just like consumers are making conscious decisions about what they’re buying and who they’re buying from, ethical companies want to partner with other ethical companies. It’s much easier to build a strong network of business partners and clients when you have a good ESG track record, especially in light of new vendor selection regulations.

But businesses don’t have to sacrifice profit for doing the right thing. If anything, it makes them stronger. A recent IBM survey of 5,000 C-suite executives across 22 industries and 22 countries found that organizations who embedded sustainability into their business operations were: 

  • 75% more likely to attribute great improvement in revenue to their sustainability efforts
  • 56% more likely to outperform their peers on talent attraction
  • 52% more likely to outperform their peers on profitability
  • Had a 16% higher rate of revenue growth

Which companies are leading the way in innovative sustainability practices?

Patagonia is famous for its dedication to making a positive environmental and social impact. As founder Yvon Chouinard says, “Earth is now our only shareholder.” They are well-known for their circular economy practices to keep their product out of landfills, like offering lifetime repairs and reselling used clothing. The clothing industry as a whole is known for its large carbon footprint, so Patagonia also transformed their supply chain systems and invested in innovative product engineering to reduce waste and stop the practice of using synthetic microfibers and forever chemicals in their clothing.

Deloitte NL, where I worked as the Director of Technology and Innovation before joining Miro, has thought strategically about how to make meaningful progress on ESG initiatives. Their Impact Foundation allows all employees to dedicate 1% of their time and expertise to making a positive societal impact. These employee-led initiatives include researching climate adaptation in the Netherlands, supporting The Ocean Cleanup, addressing teacher shortages, and scaling social programs that help people find meaningful employment. 

Innovation doesn’t just have to be about technological advancement. It can be about new ways of thinking or organizing resources to solve a problem, too — like allowing a global network of diverse subject matter experts to spend a portion of their working hours on addressing complex societal challenges.  

Should sustainability shape the future of innovation? 

While there are a few examples of companies channeling their resources toward sustainability initiatives, I don’t think we’re doing enough. The business world must take more responsibility and utilize their innovation power for good. 

At Miro, our mission is to empower teams to create the next big thing. I do hope more companies will make ESG commitments part of their next “big thing.” If innovative companies dedicate their talent and technology to solving some of our biggest problems, we could leave the world a better place for future generations. But I don’t think we’re there yet.

True innovators think beyond quarterly earnings. A sustainable company is one that can still exist in one hundred years, because a liveable planet is still there. How do we make sure that we’re still going to be around centuries from now? We won’t succeed if we’re not being innovative.

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