First year of the conference Forum for Sustainable Business clearly showed the world goes from CSR to sustainability
Published 4/19/2011

Even though the world has paved the holistic conception of sustainable business based on three pillars “People-Environment-Economy” and as a term sustainability was established even in educational and certification systems, until now we are trying to deal with its parts, for example communication of company social responsibility. But it sparkles for a better time. On Thursday 14th April in the Prague Hotel Don Giovanni there was held first year of the conference Forum for Sustainable Business with participation of nearly 120 representatives of 85 companies and institutions. This conference has a long-term goal to promote sustainability in its whole range, across all sectors, commercial and non-profit sphere and therefore create space for integration of sustainability ideas into strategies of companies, organizations and institutions.


„This conference format is not typical for us as organizer. In spite of this we have decided to invest into it – resources and increased effort. Because we believe sustainability in the sense of restoration of basic system of human and social values is an important way to assuring further prosperity of state and companies. Examples presented here today were speaking with clear numbers and data – the one who is lingering today at the start of the path to sustainability will inevitably loose his current position tomorrow. Not only because of bad reputation, but also for economic reasons,” said Antonín Parma, General Manager of the organizing company Blue Events right after the conference end. “Positive news for us is that even though we have opened a space for, at least here, relatively new term and issue related to it, a surprising number of those, who have successfully passed first steps towards sustainability, were found, among companies which decided to support the conference as partners as well as among speakers and participants from 85 companies and organizations,” added Barbora Krásná, Partner of the same company.
At the conference there were speakers from six countries including the Czech Republic. They spoke about economic, human, political and legal dimension of sustainability, bringing many inspirational and practical examples from the whole world, but they were not afraid to point at problems and pitfalls the necessary change of thinking and acting of people, companies and states inevitably brings together. The idea of sustainability governed the whole conference hall and participants were leaving full of elan and inspiration for coming period. According to questionnaires the conference was extraordinarily successful regarding the organization and background and composition of topics and speakers. In the evaluation there also appeared an opinion that this conference was the first platform where the sustainability was discussed “in the way normal person can understand”. Even though the program was crop-full and the morning part took half hour longer, great majority of attendants remained for the whole program.
At the beginning Petr Zahradník, member of NERV and economist of Česká spořitelna recapitulated definition of the term sustainability and then he explained it in economic conjunction – as a part of supra-national, national and regional strategies and as a key factor of European fiscal politics and manifest of fiscal discipline assertion. He perceives sustainability itself as nature in balance of its all three pillars. Dominance of any of them is in contrast with sustainability. Petr Zahradník posed question how many true priorities can society have. In the following program it was revealed the number of priorities is secondary, but only under the condition that all of them are makeable and especially measurable.
Amanda Jordan from British Corporate Citizenship, whose presentation was evaluated by one participant during the following discussion as “the best what could be heard on the topic of sustainability in the Czech Republic”, reminded the historical development of social and corporate initiatives before “inventing” sustainability – from philanthropy through ecology, social responsibility (CSR) to today’s complex sustainability. At the same time she revealed trends in sustainability of the last time – on example of few important companies she showed a new phenomenon appeared: plan. Then she summarized main characteristics the successful plans have in common – they are not limited to CSR only and they are regularly providing the broad public truthful information about the state of meeting goals. She showed which steps are leading to making a good plan of sustainability and how a tool for its measuring and communication should look. According to Amanda the important signal is that more and more often companies don’t want to be seen as part of a problem, but they want to become part of a solution.
Key note speaker, Al Halvorsen from the company PepsiCo, mentioned among others a research MITSloan, which says those who implement sustainability into their strategy can be divided into “devotees” and “careful supporters”. According to this research devotees are those, who are gaining competitive advantage by applying seven principles – the most important of them are: “Start now”, “Measure everything”, “Balance short-term benefits and long-term vision” or “Be transparent”. This conference clearly is a “devotee” and for “devotees”, who decided to be leaders of the future economy. The company PepsiCo has set forth more than ten years ago, but already today results of this activity reflect in clear business successes. A good tip participants gained from Al for successful change in their own surrounding, was “show first small and fast results and then ask for mandate for crucial changes”. Al also warned everyone knows CSR is not a PR, but today it is evident that without a strong story for everyone it is hard to put good ideas through. Sustainability is not a goal, but life-long journey. It is important not to walk on this path individually but hand in hand with others – because partnership brings new possibilities how to advance faster.
Esther Rodriguez from KPMG focused in her presentation in practical examples how to use sustainability for business. She brought number of ideas which participants took with them to their everyday acts. She named internal and external factors influencing realization of plans and highlighted importance of risk management and systematic work with relevant and correct data.
Ines Biedermann presented an example how a professional yearly Sustainability Report in Henkel company looks. In this company there is 20 years long tradition of publishing a yearly report and Mrs. Biedermann stressed sustainability must be integral part of corporate culture, which all employees take as their own. Only this way it can succeed. She introduced participants to history of the brand Persil as one of the sustainability flagships of Henkel with more than hundred years long tradition. “Improving parameters itself is just one side of a coin – it is also necessary to subsequently change behavior of customers and consumers,” she said. She also warned that “people are not buying products because they are environment friendly, but because of their function” therefore it is necessary to keep this function and enhance it while increasing positive impact of the product.
Miroslav Friml from Tesco Stores ČR together with Karel Fořt from Carrier chladicí technika introduced a case study – recently Tesco in Jaroměř has built unique hypermarket with zero carbon footprint, where they are testing in practice not only modern cooling technology based on CO2 but also other elements and devices pointing to energy savings and decreasing environmental burden while keeping the quality and comfort of the hypermarket operation. This presentation was evaluated positively by participants mainly because it showed a true story from our country that brought measurable and clear result.
In discussion led by Dana Zadražilová from University of Economics in Prague and where representatives of big and smaller companies participated, there were opened two issues: “How did strategies change from the aspect of sustainability in the post-crisis period” and “How to implement the change of strategy towards sustainability into company”. For the first topic there was presentation of Alexander Kainer from Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. The discussion proved it was the crisis and following return to roots what forced management of many companies to find models of their long-term existence. Today companies already know the era of traditional certainties is over and so they are trying to find new opportunities and territories. Those who were thinking and planning sustainably, could come out of the crisis strengthened, but those focused on maximizing the short-term profit were endangered by shakings of the marked more. The second half, focused on implementing changes into companies, revealed importance of leadership and personal example. Making crucial changes in the company organism cannot fall out well without every concerned individual inside accepting and supporting this change. Even in the area of sustainability there is leadership as a tool to inspire and encourage others an actual topic. Martin Hausenblas showed participants a three-minutes video which clearly showed how an idea can exponentially spread among people and become reality. “Try not to tell people what to do. They know it. Just allow them to do it and use the natural resonance,” he said in conclusion.
In the afternoon there were three parallel workshops focused on different areas – look inside company, view from company towards customers and relationship of public and private sector.
In the first, company, workshop there were presentations speaking on what is important for a company to work in a long-term. Panelists were speaking about importance of quality management, corporate governance and solving the natural tension between management and owners, about ways of sustainable efficiency growth of the company and about importance and principles of sustainable relationships with employees, business partners and society out of the company. Discussion revealed dissension in terms, which makes this issue unnoticed. Participants agreed we are living in environment from which we don’t want just to dig for money, but where it is necessary to return something in another way. It is necessary to be a ”good neighbor”, regardful not only to natural resources, but also to the human ones. As well as in other discussions there appeared an idea that it is useful to look for reserves, resources and ideas mainly in the closest neighborhood or even inside the company.
The second, most visited, workshop brought not only examples of attitude of companies to communication of sustainable values towards customers, but also a question to which extent customers are ready and willing to accept sometimes even higher price of products made in sustainable way. Even here there was mentioned several times, for example by Adam Elman from Marks and Spencer, that it is not enough to “sweep away at own company’s doorsill” but it is necessary to actively influence your surrounding – partners and customers. Companies realize they must communicate sustainable values to their customers even though they are not receiving adequate feedback. They know they must be patient in it and they are ready for investments without return. In this section as well as in the others there was mentioned few times that sustainability shouldn’t have economic impact on end consumer. At first glance it seems irresolvable, but when sustainable production grows into a critical size, there start to work savings from extent, which will help to achieve this goal. If a company wants to successfully and in the long term lead up to sustainability, it must have it written in the first page of its strategy. Also role of media is important in the struggle for sustainability – communication about any topic is more efficient in a time when the issue has enough space in media and it is important to use these moments. In communication it is important not to separate topics of profit for individual from profit for the whole society.
From the third panel dedicated to public service as a territory for sustainable activities participants were leaving enriched with inspirational information from home and Europe. From the mayor of village Kněžice they found how he evaluates operation and benefits of organic gas station they have built in the village in an interval of few years of operation. Irena Descubes brought a case study from French city Langoët where they decided in a school canteen to cook from organic food, how the project was successful and what it gave to the local community. Both presentations showed importance of exchange information and experience among neighborhood cities and communities – to get down to something new requires courage, which you can gain from neighbor who has already succeeded. At the same time it is beneficial to strengthen inner flow of work, products and finances in the local community – instead of importing from outside it is possible to create new opportunities and jobs inside the community which contribute to its health and richness. Jakub Ditrich introduced attributes and advantages of electric bicycle as an alternative mean of transport in the city traffic jam. Petr Očko from the Ministry of Industry and Trade introduced participants to current situation of operational program for supporting innovations saying that sustainable development is a basic goal of new European complex strategy Europe 2020 and Czech strategy of international competitiveness and other key documents and initiatives. Tomáš Kulman from KPMG advised how to start project in public service in the way to improve their probability to succeed. He considers important every project in public service to have thoroughly and qualitatively elaborated serious study of its feasibility. This is tough and expensive but at the same time it will significantly limit starting of indigested investment activities which will consequently harm the society instead of helping it. He also reminded that changes are not coming based on a written strategy, but only where people are truly doing something. In the discussion there was also mentioned a challenge towards public service, which is expected to improve its effort to reduce hindrances felt by those trying to innovate – from still high level of bureaucracy, through tariff policy to fight against corruption mentioned so often these days.
Already today the conference organizers are starting to prepare new year of this conference which will take place at the end of March 2012 and they are inviting to this preparations anyone who wants to contribute to enforcement of the sustainability goals – so our business and public activities were developed in the way which brings meeting of our needs, benefit and happiness to our lives but at the same time is not limiting meeting needs of generations which will come after us.  
Blue Events
Jan B. Krejčí, Head of Organizational Committee
Tel.: +420 222 749 849, e-mail:,