The Role of Responsible Business and Sustainable Business Models in a Digital Era.

April 24th 2017, Business in the Community’s #RBWeek kicked off with the Sustainable Business Model Conference: The Role of Responsible Business and Sustainable Business Model in a Digital Era, aiming to inspire and support businesses to embed Sustainable Business Models into their business strategy, explore how these models are supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how the digital era is impacting this agenda.

Hosted at Unilever House, with over 60 business representatives (including ARM, G4S Plc, Grant Thornton, Hitachi, HSBC, IBM, IHG Group, London City Airport, Mitie, Prudential and Thomson Reuters ) Keith Weed, Unilever’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer began the morning by sharing the Economic Case for being a Responsible Business, how Unilever’s Sustainable Living brands are growing 40% faster than the rest of the business, and how they have saved over €700m in cumulative costs through their Sustainable Business Model.

The open speech then led into the C-Suite Panel discussion featuring:

  • Maria Grazia-Pecorari, President, Digital, Global Portfolio & Marketing and reports to the CEO, Global Services, BT

  • Charlotte Oades, VP Global Director Women's Economic Empowerment, Coca- Cola

  • Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Unilever

  • Luis Arriaga, President UK, Ireland and Nordics (Country Manager UK), UPS

Each panelist went on to discuss what being a responsible business meant to them and what opportunities and challenges their Sustainable Business Model is presenting, and how it is impacted by the digital transformation. ‘Change, Purpose, Innovation and Inclusion’ were the key themes of the Panel Discussions, with great emphasis placed on how ‘Change is happening and accelerating rapidly and how businesses must combat the effects of globalisation. It was both fascinating and promising to hear how businesses are collaborating and building agility into their Sustainable Business Models to address global mega trends, and build a fairer society and a more sustainable future.

Luis Arriaga discussed how UPS have used technology to innovate and be a responsible business in a digital era and stated that when it comes to technology Finding the right partners to innovate with is key.  We work with SMEs and start-ups to find solutions to problems and if it works, we can scale up these operations and bring them in to the business”. Luis then left the audience highly impressed with UPS’s view on the future of parcel transportation through the power of drones. He shared examples, which included a collaboration with a Drone Start-up, using drones in Rwanda to transport blood to patients in rural communities to another example in America where the drones leave the van to deliver packages that would require large diversions. Not only are they efficient, UPS also help other businesses and clients understand their carbon footprints through their telematics. To manage consumers expectations, Luis warned the audience to not get excited over the idea of an era in which drones will be routinely used to deliver pizza and other ‘consumer goods’ to people in major urban cities.

On the consumer goods point, Charlotte Oades explained the need for sustainability awareness being integrated into family household’s decision making. Charlotte emphasised the importance of women, as data suggests that women decide/buy 70% of the products for the home, making them hugely influential. For this reason Coca-Cola is focusing on empowering women so that they can build communities, economies and create opportunities for generations to come. Charlotte closed her speech with an invaluable contribution by stating “You have to listen to your customers, whilst thinking of your own sustainability requirements, as a business you can give customers the option and choice to be sustainable”.

Similarly, Keith Weed reiterated the importance of brand purpose by revealing that Unilever had decided to discontinue certain brands/products from its portfolio, despite being profitable, as they no longer fit within the Sustainable Living Plan criteria.

Maria Grazia-Pecorari, brought to light the importance of setting ambitious goals for the business and building strong partnerships, and shared that a quarter of revenue at BT is directly linked to SDGs, making it a core element of the business. Furthermore, Maria shared how the SDGs create a common purpose and how it has allowed them to create partnerships with other businesses, for example BT work with Coca Cola in South Africa to improve connectivity through vending machines. When discussing how the digital transformation is impacting BT’s responsible business agenda, Maria inspired the audience by stating that “The rate of change is getting faster, it is important to take people with you on that journey and we have various programmes to do that such as our programme aiming to work with 5 million children in the UK to improve technical literacy.”  

It certainly was encouraging to hear from the Panel, that whilst each sector faces different challenges and opportunities,  the SDGs enable businesses and their stakeholders to align together for a common purpose and future.


Here are just some of the comments that were made:

  • “Sustainability is simply ensuring you have your business in the future, for our business and to help others. As a result, our shareholders and investors have seen the costs go down and the investment go up”

  • “…60% of the worlds work is done by women, they are the pillars of a community, this is why we have chosen to work with women as one of our 3 pillars to help create sustainable communities”

  • “…We had a goal to make a billion miles on alternative fuels by 2018 and we have already met that goal. Identifying the right partners has been key to this success as they have helped drive innovation”

  • “…‘We have made sustainability a core element of the business, a quarter of our revenue is directly linked to the SDGs. This helps to keep focus, momentum and clarity”


For more information please contact:

Sue Adkins, International Director

Elisabeth Lincoln, International Programme Manager – Sustainable Business Models

For more information on upcoming events, and practical guidance on how your business can take action to help tackle some of the key issues facing society please keep an eye on our upcoming news and events.