Leveraging 'People' Power of Sustainability

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Flemming Lippert
Senior Trade Finance Advisor at Nykredit Bank A/S, Denmark
Experienced Trade professional & business development manager with a multilevel corporate- and Financial Institutions all-round knowledge combined with a highly international experience.

Market experience includes international Trade, Trade Finance, Supply Chain Financing, Export Financing, management and multilateral business development for corporates with a regional or global presence.

The One Word...And The Green Agenda! 

One word could, potentially, sum up the immediate business status and define our eco-situation in the West, speaking from a Pan-Nordic equation: Crisis-Management.

We should had learned our lesson by now. Post-COVID and amidst the current western hybrid war between Russia and Ukraine.  From one crisis to another … while trying to predict how to navigate any potential 3rd, large eco-business crisis, an all-out Worldwide recession.

From the Nordic [1] perspective, a recession is the state of business as of November 2022 (one could argue, since 24 February 2022) – however not a state of mind really. Whilst realizing – and to some point navigating our Crisis Management capabilities –
it seems that 75% of Corporate SME-businesses are cashing in on their stubbornness of survival.

Whilst most SMEs acknowledge a certain level of business chaos when looking to either ex- or import of goods and services, the same SMEs are keeping heads above water using their creative mindset to expand on solutions that used to be reserved for the large-profile business transactions. One being an expanding cooperation which include assisting partners (usually off-takers of goods) with financing, utilizing one of many export schemes available from their local Export Credit institute.

Another eye-opener of a highly unusual but in my mind beneficial partnership in uncertain times has been that of juggling a Crisis Management-state of affairs with a Green Agenda[2]. And, would you believe it – at the same time insisting on the otherwise hybrid workforce to come together inside the corporates and financial institutions, to arrange a form of “togetherness” (physical togetherness creates a common and strong mindset).  Remembering how Covid taught us how to utilize remote online access to each other, now this method is less than 50% and lessening even further. And why? Because being in the same room creates great minds to be inspired and not only rely on the next meeting to come around with the headset always being on alert. Crisis Management demands for a reverse development, whilst of course not excluding the remote access to staff, from time-to-time.

But coming back to the new norm –
the green Agenda. Economies such as that of the Nordics (considering the small-scale industrial environment compared to larger EU-countries, e.g., Germany) are de facto using the expanding Green Agenda as a tool for – at least – trying to master the Crisis Management situation, that the SME-business is knee-deep in. The green Agenda has come to the very forefront of developing business strategies amongst SMEs. Early indicators are that such is the hype around the Green Agenda that it is prescribed by business analysts to be the foundation of the Crisis Management of any CEO. If you go green, you will be in a good position to go (back to) Black – speaking about figures in your next financial statement. If you manage your green agenda going forward, you may well have managed most of your Crisis Management in the next 2-5 years to come.

But is it really that simple to figure out my envision for the immediate future, I mean … consider this: Recession!  This single word is the foundation for chaos! Stocks fail their potential, oil-prices may rise, the USD currency may peak (volatility considered) and markets may generally tumble. Indeed, the global supply chains could be disrupted, once this single word of “Recession” is re-sounded. For sure, the mere movement of goods by any means of transportation, but mostly by containerized means, has peaked moneywise. Never has it been so assumable expensive to move goods across oceans as it is in our time. And, we all depend on this single action of moving goods and shifting services from the supplier to the end-client, the consumer.

What I see from the vast corporate contacts is that many different businesses – instead of looking to escape the inevitable downturn in income and employment of staff – are looking for new ways to support a green agenda, that so many governments are suggesting in the name of environmentally safeguarding our common future. We have lift off! Despite it is so easily to predict, sitting at the corporate desk, it is also a kind of frightening endeavor to go down an entirely new path such as the green path. No matter your industry, yes there are obstacles of destruction along the way. But not only would you support the broad governmental agenda on green, it does seem, that your business over time will benefit and keep you on the forefront of consumers agenda. And,
that is precisely what this is about, the one word: Agenda! Because you may have a current Agenda for your business “as is”, but to have a strategy on the near-future Agenda, may well be the one thing that will ensure business will run well into the 2030ish in a refreshed mood, if you include the green perspective. It seems, that to fulfil this potential, you would need to consider the renewal solution model, i.e., re-think your current goods, methods, partners into at solution where your clients can view themselves as supporting the green agenda whilst purchasing your goods and/or services. This goes for all industries, from hospitality to hardware producers, from the local municipality business to the state-owned blue-chip corporate.

A perhaps unusual example of a green agenda:
A financial institution has implemented green car loans. Loans that are cheaper than the original car loans, if you buy or intend to buy an electric or hybrid car. When considering if this loan was “green” the institution had to investigate whether the loan itself was green (it was not!) or whether the loan supported a green solution. The last part was the toughest because you would have to consider the whole spectrum of the car production and thereby measure in the black part of producing the different car parts and even the transportation of the car from the manufacturing place to the place where the client jumps into the car and drives off. Everything in between these two poles had to be assessed and calculated into a formula, in order to consider whether this car loan would go green or still be in the black. If this is the way you conduct your business, considering in all elements of intermediary points, only then you will really find out whether your business is going green or staying black. And consider this: A financial institution is not producing any goods! At best, a financial institution is picking an account number from an electronic list of endless such numbers and apply this to your account overview. So, now you have a “green” account. Is this form of going green your cup of tea? It is entirely up to your imagination what “green” is about. Hence, your green can be considered by others to be ridiculous and by many more to be a state-of-the-art environmental accomplishment. But be very aware of the green-washing affairs. As you will see in the next example:

Examples of going black when you thought you went green!
Greenwashing is not a new invention. It has been around for at least a decade but has been refined during the last couple of years. Various corporates, but mostly large institutions, have taken a dip into the public bad-standing and have had to make a 180-degree turn-around, if not indeed a 360! It has been officialized that McDonalds – a conglomerate of such magnitude – tried themselves out in the Greenwashing “industry”. The example just confirms that even such a high-profile institution is not better than the people trying to form a new strategy – in this case, a strategy of implementing a new add-on-feature to replace a black feature, in other words, “the straw case”[3]:

Year 2019 – introducing the paper straw – to replace the plastic straw. On paper (sorry) a great idea! Just apart from the fact that to produce such huge quantities of paper straws you would need to cut down several forest hectares. And, we all know that trees are to the CO2-absorbtion! So much for that (not so) great idea.

Another example is the so-called “green label case” 3 from a fairly known conglomerate:
No other than Coca Cola simply planted a green label on the already iconic bottle. This – in the mind of Coca Cola – made the whole process surrounding this particular Coke, “Coca Cola Life”, indeed including the content – very sustainable and even healthy! If you avoid considering the sugar ingrediency which came to a mere 6.6%, yes agreed, you will probably have a semi-healthy drink, that will assist combating your immediate thirst, however if you DO include the sugar content, this Coke could probably shorten your “life” quite a bit.  This being a very different green-labeling stunt is however indeed another kind of example of green washing. So, in this case there simple was no green agenda, OR … the green agenda behind it was a grave misunderstanding and potentially a underestimation of the consumer mindset.

All-in-all – the green agenda comes in a lot of flavors (sorry Coca Cola…) but not all are that green. But the recent times have clearly shown, that if you wish to command the Crisis Management in all its shapes, colors and forms, one bid to recover from the current recession could be to consider the green agenda.

Reverting to the Crisis Management – not to be mistaken for Change Management. In my mind it goes well together with the green agenda. It is a choice for each corporate or institution to make. It comes with investment spending; however, it surely will be advantageous even in the short- to midterm timespan. No matter your industry. No matter your product line. No matter your services to the market. It may still be a bold move to shift your focus to the green agenda but could prove to be your way out and reduce your Crisis Management by quite several months or years. I recommend you take a good look into your Crisis Management crystal bowl, and if you view more darkness than greenish, it could mean you should consider a … okay, a change management solution that reaches far beyond installing a new internal communication manual.

[1] Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, Norway), Finland, Iceland, Faroe Islands.

[2] The ability to put renewable or sustainable solutions into the framework of your development scheme, production and/or exports. Often referred to as “the energy renewables, doing away with oil and gas”, but the reference is used in more far-reaching circumstances in 2022.

[3] Greenwashing examples for 2022 | Worst products & brands (