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Sustainability is increasingly coming into the foreground of corporate governance as a means of mitigating risk.

Elaine Weidman-Grunewald heads Ericsson’s Sustainability and Public Affairs efforts and is also Head of Ericsson Response, the company’s humanitarian and disaster response program.

She has worked for Ericsson in the US and Sweden for over 18 years. During this time she has held various positions in the company ranging from Environmental Product Management to Sales and Marketing. Since 2005 her work has focused exclusively on driving Ericsson’s sustainability and CR initiatives.  She has been  reporting to the CEO since 2012, and a has been member of the Global Leadership Team since 2014. As of July 1, 2016 she is part of the Ericsson Executive Leadership Team.  She is also a member of the Group Crisis Management Council.


Christopher P. Skroupa: How important is sustainability on today’s corporate agenda?

Elaine Weidman-Grunewald: It is rapidly increasing in importance and, to its nature, sustainability is two-fold reducing risk and balancing the economic values with the environmental and social ones. The risk reduction area spans from anti-corruption, occupational health and safety, to material, energy and climate issues as well as resilience and adaptation.

The sustainability area is about balancing the need for social, economic development with the impact on the environment and the nexus between different areas such as energy, water and agriculture or access to electricity and socio-economic development.

Sustainability is also becoming a vital area to be seen as an attractive employer since millennials are more likely to choose to work for a company that has a purpose that supports a sustainable and inclusive future.

 

Skroupa: What is the business case for sustainability?

Weidman-Grunewald: In the report Better Business, Better World, from Business and Sustainable Development Commission, the business case for sustainability is evaluated from a macro perspective. In short the research shows that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or Global Goals – to end extreme poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030, offers a compelling growth strategy for individual businesses and for business in general. Achieving the Global Goals creates at least $12 trillion U.S. in opportunities in four economic systems examined by the Commission; food and agriculture, cities, energy and materials, and health and well-being can generate up to 380 million jobs, mostly in developing countries.

 

Skroupa: Why should companies engage around the SDGs?

Weidman-Grunewald: The SDGs provide an international common language and framework, increasingly used to define and measure impacts. It also helps companies to describe their value throughout the value chain and respond to requests that include non-financial measurements.

The SDGs also provide investors with an insight on how government decision-making and company behavior will shape the development of the global economy over the next 15 years. By setting policy makers’ priorities, the SDGs will be a key driver of global GDP growth and source of investment opportunities. Investors are in general more concerned with companies’ sustainability risk profiles as well as interested in understanding sustainability-related business opportunities.

It provides an engagement model internally as well as externally, i.e. both with employees, with customers, investors as well as different societal stakeholders.

 

Skroupa: How did Ericsson do so and what are lessons learned from early adopters like Ericsson?

Weidman-Grunewald: With the SDGs we have explained our ambition to be  “a responsible and relevant driver of positive change” to our four stakeholder groups:  investors, customers, employees and society. We use the SDG framework in our annual Sustainability reporting as well as highlighting proofpoints on our company website of  Ericsson technology, advocacy, innovation and expertise are helping to achieve each one of the Sustainable Development Goals,  as well as in our social media channels.

Through research together with the Earth Institute at Columbia University in 2015, we highlighted that ICT is a basic infrastructure to not only enable but in some cases accelerate achievement of the SDGs; and just as important for reaching the Goals as investments in electricity, water and transport.

It is also a framework to demonstrate our innovation and scale throughout the world with solutions we have deployed in areas such as climate change, internet for all as well as circular economy.

We also learned the importance of top management commitment as well as widespread engagement possibilities for our employees. We created  ambassadors roles for our Executive Leadership Team at the launch of the SDGs in September 2015, and subsequently linked employee volunteer opportunities to one or several of the Global Goals. Both of these efforts have created momentum within the company and across the industry to support achievement of the SDGs.