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Business and government share ideas on sustainability

DuPont CEO Forum in Dubai 2013

Panellists discussed monetary policy and the potential effects on emerging markets when large sums of “cheap money” rush into these markets, inflating asset prices and currency values, only to turn around and rush out. Sustained growth initiatives continue to remain possible in this context. Emerging markets will still grow three times faster than the developed world in the coming decade. Their population will still increase by six million people every month and they will still buy half of the world’s exports.

The DuPont CEO Forum in Dubai 2013

We live in a world of contrast and inequality. From energy to food, income to space, living and working conditions across the planet vary enormously. On 25 September 2013, DuPont convened an executive forum in Dubai to examine ways of tackling these challenges head-on through collaboration to achieve sustainable growth. CEOs of leading multinationals, government officials and academics came together from a swathe of different industries and all continents to discuss sustainability issues ranging from energy to food and emerging economies.

The ensuing four panel discussions addressed some of these points. James Weigand, President DuPont Sustainable Solutions, focused on the topic of how companies can best compete in complex markets despite volatile market dynamics and tepid growth projections. David B. Miller, President DuPont Electronics & Communications led a panel discussion on securing our energy future as our world’s population swells to more than nine billion people by 2050. Craig Binetti, President DuPont Nutrition & Health, moderated a discussion on how to build nutrition and health in a growing population, especially as related to the need for affordable and nutritious food in the Middle East region and Ian Hudson, President of DuPont Europe, Middle East and Africa, and his panellists considered how to promote sustainability and growth in emerging regions.

The invitation-only event also asked delegates to take part in a short poll that showed the majority ranking company culture and leadership as the primary challenges when it came to mobilising their businesses to address sustainability opportunities. Interestingly, they also pinpointed leadership role models as being the strongest motivator for employee engagement in sustainability. Access to resources, be they human, natural or financial, was cited as the leading source of sustainability challenges, though regulation clearly also plays a pivotal role.

No man is an island – collaboration is key

Executives are expected to secure the future for employees, customers, local communities, stakeholders and shareholders despite economic uncertainty, regional instability and complex operating environments. Volatile commodity prices, demographic and technological change add to the pressure they are under. In this context, panellists and participants at the DuPont Executive Forum all zeroed in on collaboration as critical to making sustainable growth possible. Collaboration is not always easy or quick to achieve. It often starts with a need and the stark realisation that an organisation or a leader is unable to address this critical need fully on his own.

Once collaboration is achieved, the results can be phenomenal. Panellists shared success stories of barren land in India transformed into forest that is now a haven for wildlife, or improved business outcomes that were due to collaboration between managers and employees.

Supplying energy to world’s booming population

Of the world’s entire population of seven billion people, two billion consume most of the energy and one billion has no access to energy at all. With population growth predicted to rise to nine billion by 2050, rapid industrialisation of and rising living standards in emerging economies, global energy demand is set to more than double. It is clear that energy efficiency, improved supply and demand management, innovation, government policy and the transition to renewable resources all have their role to play, but the forum was interested in establishing what business leaders could do. Everyone agreed that it was impossible to predict what the proportions of energy sources would be in 2050. What was clear was that the energy mix is going to evolve.

Moderator Dave Miller, President of DuPont Electronics & Communications summed up this session by saying, “it’s clear that it will take all energy sources to meet our needs. The question is: will energy be an inhibitor or an enabler of growth and quality of life. It’s going to take a long time and it will be a life journey for many of us.”

Waste not, want not

Just as economic growth affects energy consumption, so it does diet. Although one in six of us goes to bed hungry every night, one in five of the world’s population is obese. Food and nutritional equality is far from being a given.

As wealth accumulates in developing parts of the world, populations begin to consume more meat and less grain and also throw away more of their food, placing increasing pressure on the environment. Technological advances to identify ways to boost nutritional levels, eliminate and use waste, and extend shelf life, coupled with a rising number of programs to educate people on the effects of food on the body were presented as the most crucial initiatives to tackle problems of both too little and too much.

In large multi-cultural cities, getting the right products on the right shelves for the right consumers can lead to high waste levels due to the difficulties associated with properly forecasting a wide range of cultural preferences. As one panellist put it, “sometimes supply and demand don’t meet in the same place.”

Panellists agreed that significant reductions in waste have resulted from a host of packaging solutions that extend shelf life and/or eliminate the need for refrigeration. The use of specialised ingredients that maintain a food’s shape, texture, or taste also contribute to more product purchased and consumed than wasted. But more innovation is needed.

Are we making too much of emerging markets?

With rumours abounding of the potential slowing of developing markets, are we unrealistic in expecting so much growth and improvement in living standards? Nenad Pacek, Founder and President of Global Success Advisors GmbH & Co-Founder, CEEMEA Business Group warned: “What is different today is that most economies around the world have very decent economic fundamentals. The currencies will go up and down, (because) no one is stopping the speculators... the biggest advice that we give our clients is ‘you don’t want to stop your growth initiatives in emerging markets’, ... because, fundamentally, things have not really changed.”

What the panel believe is most needed to get it right in emerging markets such as the Arab world is more education. Gender inclusion was also highlighted as a challenge by the panel in certain emerging regions.

Regardless of the hurdles, panellists were quick to share the business benefits they believe can accrue from inclusion. Sanjiv Mehta, Chairman North Africa and Middle East, Unilever explained: “For us gender balance is extremely important. The reason being very simple – 85% of our shoppers are women. So, we can’t be living in a world where our target consumers are women and not have women as brand managers. ...a lot of steps have been taken to make an organisation where we can attract, retain, and more importantly, create an enabling environment where women can blossom.”

As one of the broadest discussions at the CEO Forum, the conclusion and themes were familiar and clear. Sustainable growth is very much possible if we engage, collaborate, innovate and lead. At the centre of all these activities are people.

Leaving with a to do

Ellen Kullman, Chair of the Board and CEO of DuPont, who opened the DuPont Executive Forum in Dubai and moderated the closing session, summed up the challenges discussed as follows: “We are at a crossroads which is best described as the intersection between the large growing global human population and the economic and technological challenge of providing for all these people in a sustainable way. As business leaders, we can play a key role in providing a sustainable products and services that not only address a market need, but also the expectations of consumers and society, while at the same time accessing new markets, creating demand and spurring growth.”

For further information, please read the full 2013 DuPont CEO Forum Executive Summary.

Also, the call for applications for the 2015 awards is now open. Visit the DuPont Safety and Sustainability Awards 2015 home page here