Rebecca Navarro on Future Proofing

Rebeca Navarro, Chief Transformation Officer for Europe and Head of Procurement at  Aryzta explains that there is no better time than right now to put sustainability at the core of your business.

That means that almost half of the corporate world is not meeting the needs of their customers. And, with those customers making long-term decisions about who they buy from, not buying heavily into a sustainable transformation strategy just seems, well tantamount to business suicide.

“Ultimately, it is about survival,” says Rebeca Navarro, Chief Transformation Officer and Head of Procurement for Europe, at Aryzta. “My view is that – at the speed of change we have today – not trying will lead to a sure failure. I have seen how redefining purpose, and living it, unlocks value beyond the initial intention.

“To those players that resist change I would remind them of the automobile industry. They will not have to wait long to have their own version of Tesla passing them by,” she added. 

Of those companies in the above study committed to sustainability transformation, 77% say that their positive approach has already increased customer loyalty. And 63% have even reported an uptick in revenue because of their actions. So why isn’t everyone putting a sustainable transformation strategy at the heart of everything they do?

“Ultimately, it is about survival,” says Rebeca Navarro, Chief Transformation Officer and Head of Procurement for Europe, at Aryzta. “My view is that – at the speed of change we have today – not trying will lead to a sure failure…”

“I would not say that, in general, companies are avoiding it,” Rebeca told the WeQual Magazine. “Some might, but many are at different stages of addressing it, with more or less success. To succeed you need to build sustainability expertise and change management skills and business knowledge. Hiring one or two sustainability experts will not do the job, they can too easily end up siloed.”

A renewed and sustained focus on sustainability was, not all that long ago, a pipe dream for society in general. It was a long way from being seen as a primary business focus of the biggest and most influential companies in the world.

“When I was at university, I studied Environmental Economics. At the time there wasn’t a lot of scope for it: it was difficult to see a pathway within business where I could use what I had learned. But I am not the kind of person who wants to delay doing something, so staying on in education to continue as a postgraduate was not appealing.

“When I first started, there was no focus on sustainability and transformation: all so-called ‘good deeds’ were focused into the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) department. Their remit was very different.

“Nowadays, companies are looking for the longer term. Of course, you still have the short-term pressures – the P&L considerations – but it is a lot different than it used to be. For a start, customers are punishing companies that are thinking too short term.”

But there are potential pitfalls, despite the general positive outlook for working towards a sustainable future, particularly since the pandemic.

One of the major issues is the lack of a standard measuring tool that is recognised across all industries.

“Whereas it is easy to measure the success of normal strategies with their impact on P&L, there is still a big gap in the ability to measure how successful a sustainable transformation strategy has been because there just isn’t the accounting in place,” Rebeca said. “We need to put together universal and simplified environmental accounting tools.”

But what does a viable strategy look like, and how do you bring the rest of the company along with you?

“You have to take Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) factors into consideration,” Rebeca explains. “To make your strategy successful, you have to bring a reviewed purpose to the forefront of the organisation.

“And it has to be self-sustaining,” she added. “By this I mean that, while it might need a catalyst, an initial high-level energetic push, after a time it will need to be totally embedded into the culture of the company and connect everyone in the organization.

“It needs to be embedded deeply enough that it automatically makes ongoing decisions obvious, and serves as an implicit guide to everyone’s everyday decision-making. It needs to be prevalent at all levels, and it also needs to be able to reconnect the company with its consumers, and to a broader society as a whole.”

But there are potential pitfalls, despite the general positive outlook for working towards a sustainable future, particularly since the pandemic.

“It can generate fear, fear to try something that does not work,” Rebeca warns. “Within our organisations, we need to do our best to turn that fear into fun.”

At a previous role at Unilever, Rebeca’s experience of taking the lead on sustainable transformation saw improvements in a number of areas. With a lot of brands, Unilever had a number of strategies in place to improve its footprint.

‘Whether it is with the acquisition of a vegetarian butcher, focusing on brands with a better end-to-end environmental footprint, or even improving the footprints of our other products, there are a number of things we can do.

“Sustainable sourcing is a big thing. Supply chains can be very big and complex. Ultimately, consumers would like to have more sustainable products but sometimes they are not in the market. While smaller start-ups can bring new ideas to the table, it is often more effective if most of the big players remain in the market and make changes or improvements.”

Rebeca believes that despite the complicated nature, companies need to plan how to keep their sustainable transformation strategy focused.

“I think, when it comes to sustainable transformation, it can seem an incredibly complicated subject when taken as a whole. It is a lot more straightforward to drive that change if you break it down with your company.

“Companies have taken some of the older responsibilities of governments. Or at the very least they are taking on part of those responsibilities in collaboration with the state. But big companies are also sharing some of these new responsibilities with each other – and also with their suppliers, and their customers.

“Ultimately, to get to where your company wants to be, you need to evaluate where you are, set goals, and give yourself an ambitious but reasonable transition period to get there. And what works best is a mix of organic change and the right acquisitions.

“And you can get closer to your goal much quicker with M&A,” she added.

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