Ethical Performance
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The race for sustainability needs to shift a gear...or two

October 2014

Listening to the dentist drill-like drone of the very first Formula E grand prix recently, it struck me that its aim to be about much more than just a new motor sport, “to help develop electric vehicle technology, accelerate interest and promote sustainability” was very similar to CR. CR is not meant to be a new way of doing business; it is the way, the only sustainable way, of doing business.

At the inaugural electric grand prix in Japan, everyone was trying their utmost to be upbeat about the new format – to claim that it really was as good as the regular Formula 1 version – but beneath it all many were secretly thinking that it really wasn’t quite as good at all. Yes, it was noble, it was a very good effort and backs needed to be slapped but was it really going to change business as usual in the Grand Prix stakes? Even with familiar names like Senna and Prost involved – and a dramatic crash to add to the excitement of it all – it was only truly enjoyed by those already convinced by its arguments – and actively taking part, ie the engaged audience. Where have you heard that before?

For example, where I heard a dentist drill-likebuzz, Jaime Alguersuari, a Formula One veteran and driver with the Virgin Formula E team backed by British billionaire Richard Branson, heard something completely different, describing it to CBC News thus : “It reminds me of a turbine from a jet plane. When you are in the car after a certain speed, you just hear the wind. You hear everything, the suspension movement, the floors when you are touching a curb, you hear tyres, all sorts of stuff where in other racing you just hear the engine.”

Yes, you see for the driver it was fabulous. There are plenty of other quirks to Formula E too, like the batteries can only last half the race so all the drivers have two cars and swap midway through the race — which lasts only one hour. Then there’s the mildly ridiculous ‘fanboost’. This entails viewers from home having the potential to bestow increased power to 180kw on their favourite racer. The three drivers who receive the most votes from fans before a race get given a five second “power boost” to use at any time of their choosing. An example of stakeholder engagement taken a step too far perhaps?

Big names in sustainability were attracted to Formula E, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Sir Richard Branson both fronting teams, just like we have big business heavily engaged in CR these days. But what about the smaller players? The Jones & Son Limiteds of this world which are the backbone of many an economy?

Interestingly new figures from Grant Thornton’s latest International Business Report (IBR), a survey of 2,500 companies in 34 economies, reveal that businesses leaders in emerging markets are more focused on the sustainability of their operations compared with peers in developed markets.

Nathan Goode, global leader for energy and cleantech at Grant Thornton, said: “These results highlight the fact that we need to change the narrative of the sustainability debate. Sustainability has traditionally been seen as a cost to business; the burden of supporting the common good. However our recent research shows that business leaders are increasingly motivated by the cost management benefits of moving towards more socially and environmentally sustainable practices. We need to start talking in language that resonates with businesses, stressing the benefits of action and the costs of inaction.”

UK & NI Ireland | Sustainability


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