Sustainability in a tech scale-up: “How on earth do I start it ?”
Last week, as part of our Ring2Success operational support program, we organized our first sustainability workshop with the community of our Ring Capital I portfolio companies. Indeed, as we seek to empower tech entrepreneurs to build a better tomorrow through sustainable growth, we need to provide them with support and guidance throughout their sustainability journey. And of course, as every journey, it all starts with a simple question, shared by a majority of companies: “How on earth do I start it?”.
The way we often proceed for these Ring2Success workshops is the following: we try to have one of our portfolio companies’ testimony on the subject in order to make things concrete and easy to project for the rest of the companies. In addition to this testimony, we invite an expert of our ecosystem to the workshop, to share their feedback or guidelines and best practices. For this workshop, we invited Marie-Gabrielle Sorin, from WeEngage. And finally we end up with roundtable discussions in order to identify more precisely the questions at stake for the different participants.
So, when it came to CSR and sustainability, we asked Splio to share their experience as we know they have identified this subject as a company priority since May 2020. Not to reveal in detail what they have done or any “Splio secret sauce”, I will try and extract the 5 key learnings we got from their experience and the discussion with Marie-Gabrielle Sorin.
- Talk to your stakeholders first! Identify the expectations of your clients, suppliers, employees, and investors on this topic… You’ll learn so much about it.
- Use benchmarks and frameworks to identify where you stand and where you can / need / want to improve.
- Set up a well-designed task force for this sustainability journey, by engaging both C-levels and employees as owners of the project.
- Choose your battles, and select a few main stakes on which to work on, the most material with your activities.
- Throughout this process stay humble and iterate, do not overpromise. Only communicate once the results are delivered.
We first discussed with Splio the strengths of the “stakeholders outreach” process, which enables to identify how interested your stakeholders are about sustainability and engagement. Results can be surprising. Experience has shown Splio that engaging your clients in such a discussion can be a great value creator and increase loyalty from their part. One risk though is to look overpromising to your stakeholders and generate deception. You need to be honest, humble and authentic about your process when reaching out to them.
We also discussed the possibility to use the BCorp framework to do a first assessment of where you stand and how it can evolve into an action plan. Warning: you will find much more precise and sophisticated literature regarding the BCorp framework than what I am going to state here. But basically, what appeared in the discussion is that although some might consider it biased and not exhaustive, the BCorp framework can be a very good first exercise to consider the universe of possibilities and to assess their materiality for your own company. Some other frameworks can be used such as the Impact Score, ESUS, the 17 SDGs, or the Entreprise à Mission… Croissance Plus has published a great Guide to theses labels from the entrepreneurs’ perspectives. At the end of the day, the main idea is above all to find a framework aligned with your unique sustainability needs and your corporate values, and that can help you structure our CSR roadmap.
And using Marie-Gabrielle Sorin’s solid experience we also identified a list of best practices to set up when addressing this sustainability topic:
- Be careful of the organization around this topic. It should neither be a top down project sponsored only by the CEO nor a bottom-up initiative that lacks sponsors at COMEX level. Think about building a task force gathering different positions in the business and in the decision making process. Make sure that this task force is given enough ownership, resources and clear guidance to be able to move the project forward.
- Once your stakeholders outreach has resulted in key learnings, be cautious to prioritize one to two main topics and levers of action. The secret is to stay pragmatic, and focused on what is material to your business.
- In your “ignition” process, move fast from outreach and assessment to a roadmap. It will get concrete and you will ensure this becomes a business project and not a side project. This process should last from 6 to 9 months.
- Be careful of the communication you make around this topic. Don’t communicate too early or too much about intentions. Not only is it the road to “green washing” but also will it generate deception among your stakeholders. Communicate about actions and results instead.
As a conclusion, this workshop allowed us to gather good and concrete ideas and answers to our initial question “How do I start it”? and given the discussions it triggered during the workshop I am pretty sure this will lead to more initiatives within the portfolio companies.
But the path to building an innovative, radical and consistent sustainable engagement is still quite long and we, as an investor and as a key stakeholder for our portfolio companies, need to help them throughout the whole journey! Hence, to be continued…