ERM is the world’s largest independent management consultancy in the field of sustainability. The organisation has more than 7,500 employees and offices in dozens of countries. ERM offers a unique combination of strategy transformation capabilities and in-depth technical knowledge of sustainability themes such as biodiversity, climate and the energy transition. For all these reasons, Unica commissioned the company to rethink its sustainability strategy in 2022. This structured framework created a more solid sustainability base for business practice at Unica. It is also a crucial tool in reinforcing and implementing the group’s sustainability ambitions.
21 times more efficient
Lars Kurznack, partner at ERM, has been advising companies on sustainability issues for twenty years. He is delighted to see that sustainability is high on the list of priorities at so many companies. Nonetheless, many businesses underestimate the opportunities that sustainability can offer. “If we want the world to be climate neutral at the latest by 2050, we must cut back from 768 to 30 grams of CO2 per gross domestic product in dollars. In other words, we must become 21 times more efficient by 2050! That is the challenge facing us,” explains Lars. “Every asset in our environment – whether it is a building, a system, a house or a factory – will have to be made more sustainable over the coming years. And that places us at the start of a new industrial revolution. Companies want to continue growing, but at the same time will have to reduce their CO2 emissions. It may not be rocket science, but it is a completely new playing field. Many companies are still searching for a way to tackle sustainability and are trying to identify opportunities this new playing field can offer their organisation.”
‘Unica wants to operationalise sustainability, to truly live up to its promises.’
When Lars first set foot inside the Unica organisation, he saw a successful company that was looking to take the next step in its corporate strategy – above all in respect of sustainable business practice. “Unica has an excellent reputation and a massive pool of technical knowledge and expertise. They are perfectly situated to help their customers with the energy transition. Sustainability offers Unica the opportunity to demonstrate its added value and to deliver more impact to its customers.”
Lars goes on to emphasise that good business practice has for some time been about more than merely financial performance. “Employees, customers, chain partners and other stakeholders expect a company to stand for something. Certainly given the current shortages on the labour market, it is essential that you make it clear what kind of company you want to be and what impact you have on your environment. That is something Unica has understood very well. Sustainable entrepreneurship is one of the spearheads in its corporate strategy. And at Unica these are anything but hollow words: Unica is a company that truly wants to live by its statements.”
Lars and his team were asked to assist in the further structuring of sustainable business practice within the organisation. Lars explains, “How can we further operationalise sustainability within the corporate strategy? What themes should we focus on? What initiatives do we need to take? How can we use those themes to create more value for our customers? And what do we want our narrative to be, the strategic story that helps us stand out from the rest, as a technical service provider?
Measuring and guiding
According to Lars, the management of Unica already had a clear picture of the role sustainability ought to play in the company’s strategy. They used a materiality analysis to identify the topics that the company’s employees, customers and other stakeholders consider most important, and how Unica could put sustainability into practice within its strategy. Five topics were selected and translated into targets and key performance indicators (KPIs). Lars explained, “KPIs are critical because they help you measure whether you are on the right track and make any necessary adjustments as you go. We also identified operational activities with the middle management of the various companies. We made that choice because translating sustainability ambitions into everyday business is most complex at precisely that level.”
Lars continues, “The challenges are greatest for the employees who face customers across the table. It is their task to make sustainability part of everyday business and to live up to what Unica says. The way to do that is to make sure that sustainability improves your customer’s organisations. Once you understand your customer’s greatest challenges over the next few years, you can develop the appropriate products and services. And enter dialogue confidently.”
Lars looks back on his cooperation with Unica with considerable pleasure. “ERM and Unica are both socially oriented companies and both rely on technical expertise. The result was a perfect match in terms of eye for detail and pragmatic approach. Unica has a solid management. The company is very keen to move forward, has a long-term orientation and is people-driven. An unusual combination. Our ideas on how to make sustainability workable were much appreciated. For the future, I wish Unica focus: coherence between the various sustainability activities means you remain efficient and effective, which allows you to actually operationalise sustainability in the organisation. I also hope Unica succeeds in converting its ambitions into concrete results that will benefit us as a society.”