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What makes a compelling business case for corporate sustainability?

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“Somebody must be willing to keep their head on the block”, said Øyvind Bjørnstad who was the interim CFO of Vestre since September 2021 and now CSO regards corporate sustainability as a responsibility that should be taken company wide. That is particularly important since Vestre, which has been operating for more than 75 years, is one of Scandinavia’s leading manufacturers in sustainable furniture.  

As a company that manufactures urban furniture, Bjørnstad stated that Vestre is more about creating “social meeting places”, where people can come together and have engaging conversations. “We really believe in dialogue. Talking about our differences and finding the common ground is important.” This is the reason why Vestre believes that a good democratic design within a limited space is part of the total value of a public area. These designs are what form the initial steps to the company’s sustainable practices. 

Materials form a major part of the footprint 

Sustainable practice begins at the root of production, where the raw materials are being procured and the designs are only just being developed. To keep a check on their carbon footprint, while producing long-lasting products, Vestre wants to encourage the use of certificates and standardized measures to understand which material is sustainable. The standardized measures, such as the Nordic Swan Eco Label (type 1 ecolabel, ISO14020), help differentiate the ingredients of the product and how much they can be recycled.

“Everybody talks about sustainability today. So, we really want to encourage a standardized way of differentiating so that every purchaser and every procurement officer can easily know what is sustainable and what is not.”  – Øyvind Bjørnstad (CSO of Vestre) 

Informing the customer and keeping things transparent 

Transparency is one of the key components of good corporate sustainability practices. It not only builds crucial relationships with partners and stakeholders but also positions the brand as trustworthy among its consumers. As a company that integrates sustainable practices at its core, Vestre keeps things transparent with its consumers.  

“We want to inform our customers about what they are buying here. It is a good way for us to deal with questions and also keeps us on our toes.” – Øyvind Bjørnstad 

Measuring sustainability should be a long-term goal

Although The Triple Bottom Line is the current framework for measuring sustainability, a company’s growth and stability are still only viable as prerequisite on profitability. However, it is equally important that the company’s contribution to society and the environment is given emphasis. It can be difficult to put quantitative measures on society and environment, but these can be addressed if the firm focuses on value chain and the social condition of the workers. In this case, setting up parameters to ensure that a firm is transparent and is dealing well with the value chain is an important factor.  

“In terms of environment, we must set science-based targets as we want to decarbonize our value chain. We want to go beyond offsets. We know that this will take time and that it cannot be done in one day. Nevertheless, we are committed to our motto: “no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” – Øyvind Bjørnstad

There are two sides to sustainability. In the present economic structure, it depends on the company’s profit margin. A company needs its revenue to survive and invent new methods to carry on with its sustainable goals. But perhaps in the future when the entire economic structure is remodelled, companies will have the opportunity to put equal importance on the 3Ps of the Triple Bottom Line – People, Planet, and Prosperity.  

Noah Schaul, Director of Corporate Trainings at Inchainge, who led the interview with Øyvind, added to the discussion that,

“It is important that companies get started today, focusing on one thing. It cannot all be achieved in one day and the goal will take time. Maybe start with people and then make the shift to the other two Ps.” 

To make a compelling case for corporate sustainability, Noah mentioned that the following three objectives should be a firm’s top priorities: 

  • Increase control because the more control you have, the more sustainable you can become 
  • Start with the basics, such as making note of energy consumption and focusing on how to make products in a less harmful way 
  • Stay profitable to make sure that the firm does not go out of business

Vestre’s transparent method is certainly a bold approach towards sustainability. While for some firms this transparency can mean that they will be subject to immense criticism, for others it can increase their loyal customers. Sustainable practices are best executed through clear and constructive communication which seems to be the key foundation for Vestre. It not only gives the firm the edge over criticism but also gives them the scope to claim their success story.