For some years now, the conversations in the boards of directors of large corporations have expanded and diversified their content. From the times when the economic results defined, almost alone, the good progress of the company, we have reached a moment in which, in addition to making money, companies value other aspects related to environmental, social and government factors. corporate. These are the so-called ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) criteria, factors that help define the DNA of each business project and materialize its purpose and values.
It is no longer enough to earn money. It matters how we win it and what the company's contribution to society is, the relationship with its stakeholders, its conduct, its commitment to the environment and also with the people who make up the project. The sum of all these criteria are those that end up composing a more holistic and reliable drawing, making the difference and increasingly the company's strategy and its future prospects.
To analyze the importance and scope of changes in business culture, La Vanguardia brought together executives from four large corporations to discuss and reflect on business purposes and values. Yolanda Menal, Global People Director of Cellnex; Xavier Ribera, Director of Sustainability and Communication at BASF; Amalia Santallusia, Global Director of Human Relations and ESG at Fluidra, and Ana Palencia, Communications Director at Unilever, shared points of view, opinions and experiences on the changes that have redefined the rules of the business game.
The conversation began with a provocative question: If your company disappeared, who would miss it and why? "Without seeming pretentious, I would say that everyone," answered Yolanda Menal with the forcefulness that the challenge required. Cellnex's board of directors justified its response by ensuring that "we are dedicated, through our clients, to connecting society and the world's industries." For Menal, “it has been proven that connectivity is one of the greatest sources of progress. Through connectivity, we can share the ideas that define our world today and will shape the world of tomorrow."
Ana Palencia stated that if her company disappeared "I don't know if the whole world would miss us, but a lot of people would." The communication expert began by citing "the 148,000 employees who work in the company and the 3,400 million people who decide to buy a Unilever product every day." The directive went further by ensuring that "the planet would also miss us because we care and take care of creating a better future through our company purpose, which is to promote a sustainable lifestyle in our day to day".
Amalia Santallusia, for her part, stressed that "the impact of our disappearance would be very great, both among our stakeholders and in society as a whole." Like most companies, Fluidra "seeks to generate a significant impact on society, which is people and the planet, with its activity". To do this, they rely on their purpose: "to improve the quality of life of people by providing sustainable and innovative solutions through water at the level of leisure, but also health".
In the case of BASF, Xavier Ribera stated that "almost everyone would miss us, even without knowing it". The communication director recalled that "95% of what surrounds us is chemical and, therefore, we are present in almost everything". Although beyond the weight of the sector and the leadership of the company, Ribera assured that "I like to think that those looking for someone who provides innovative solutions in terms of sustainability would miss us."
The 2030 Agenda, developed by the UN in 2015, to set Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) plays a relevant role in the cultural change that companies are experiencing. Menal considers that this document is for Cellnex, "firstly, a reference, and secondly, it is also an incentive". The people management expert affirms that the 2030 Agenda "provides us with a framework to develop long-term initiatives that we have linked to our ESG Master Plan at the company".
In the case of Unilever, Palencia considered that this UN initiative "has allowed us to reconfirm the objectives we had in terms of sustainability." From a more practical point of view, the directive explains that "every time we develop the purpose of one of our brands we have to make sure that it responds to one of the 17 objectives".
For Fluidra, the 2030 Agenda "has been its roadmap", reveals Santallusia. The board explained that "before the UN initiative, although we were already developing ESG strategies, we did not have a defined policy with clear objectives." The impulse came "when, in 2021, the company's board of directors decided to set a date and resources for the objectives that we had clearer." In this sense, the head of Human Resources highlighted the importance of ratings "because they allow you to measure your progress and compare yourself with other companies".
The truth is that the 2030 Agenda has appealed to companies that have made progress in their positions around sustainability. Xavier Ribera considers it logical because "we are guilty". The BASF executive said that "companies are the ones that have polluted the most." Ribera recalled the phrase of the general director of the company in which he assures that "this is a long-distance race in which we all cross the finish line together or we all lose." To add more excitement "it's a race against time."
In Ana Palencia's perspective, "what the 2030 Agenda has really helped us with is communicating to society what we do in terms of sustainability." Unilever's board of directors considers that the real engine has been the consumer who "wants to know what we do to take care of the planet and if they don't like our proposal they will end up turning their back on us".
Regardless of the importance of the SDGs, the truth is that we cannot say that positive progress is being made. Torres recalled that "half the time has passed and we have not reached half the objectives." Instead, Menal emphasized that "although there is still a long way to go, now we know how far we still have to go."
Whatever the role of the 2030 Agenda in changing corporate culture, the key concept related to this document is that of sustainability. Cellnex's board of directors explained that "it has many derivatives, which makes it possible to identify priorities that last." Menal stated that “we all want to have a positive impact, but in the long term and not in the short term”.
The rise of sustainability in the business field is not due, in the opinion of Xavier Ribera, "because it is simple, since it entails more cost and inconvenience, reasons why we have not embraced it for a long time". In any case, in the purposes of companies, sustainability is the protagonist "because it defines you and transcends day-to-day activity," Menal clarified.
All the companies represented in the session provided information on the process they followed to define the purposes of the companies. The Cellnex head of people management stated that "we carried out an inclusive and collaborative exercise in which we involved and listened to all employees, our customers and shareholders".
The learning curve allowed Unilever to identify that, in addition to promoting its purpose, it was necessary to call to action and educate the consumer on the use of the brand's products. Otherwise it would be impossible to meet objectives. Palencia explained that the president of the company "publicly stated that if one of Unilever's brands is unable to find a purpose, with a social or environmental impact, it will be removed from the portfolio."
The passage of time has given a greater role to the purpose of companies, their values and ESG criteria. Shareholders, employees, suppliers and even the market demand clarification on the objectives achieved.
Amalia Santallusia is clear that "companies now feel more observed and we have understood that we must be an example for stakeholders". This review even affects employees and recruiting talent. ¨The ability of a company to sustain itself over time, to attract talent, to continue to exist will depend on our ability to work on sustainability in all the sense that the word encompasses¨, assured the Fluidra board of directors. For her part, Yolanda Menal stated that "more and more candidates are the ones who interview you and not the other way around."
In a job interview, “people ask you about your company values to see if they match up with their own personal values,” Santallusia says. For Menal, "we are all interested in transcending, in having a purpose and in having a successful career." At Cellnex, values are integrated into the behaviors that define the leadership model, "in which it is defined that we are all leaders". The technology board maintained that "connectivity empowers people." A purpose, without a doubt, very powerful.