This is the message that will be emphasised once again in the second edition of the Malta Sustainability Forum, returning later this month. The major five-day online event will bring together a whole host of sustainability experts, youth groups and business leaders who are walking the sustainability talk, including renowned international keynote speaker Wim Vermeulen.
Indeed, Vermeulen is an unusual candidate for a sustainability expert. With an extensive background both in the digital and traditional advertising industries, he has earned top management and marketing qualifications from both Cambridge and Oxford University. Specialising in digital transformation and brand innovation, Vermeulen’s name can be found behind some of the biggest moments in the creative world. So, it begs the question: why focus on sustainability?
“Sustainability is not about the end of the planet – our planet has seen worse,” Vermeulen explains. “It is about making the lives of millions of people tremendously difficult in the near future. My great-grandchildren may be some of those millions of people. It put things in a hugely different perspective, if you look at sustainability as about your family and your responsibility as a great-grandfather. You realise you must do all you can to help avoid that future for your descendants and the people in their time.”
As Director of Strategy and Sustainability at Bubka, an international keynote speaker and a Lecturer at the Solvay Business School, during strategy sessions Vermeulen asks business leaders to write a letter to their great-grandchildren telling them what they are doing now to keep them safe later.
“This practice gives them purpose and helps them think about the purpose of the companies they lead,” he continues. “We cannot underestimate the importance of developing and implementing a purpose strategy. Communicating about the corporate purpose and how it serves the transition towards sustainability is critical.”
Vermeulen also appreciates the ever-increasing urgency of conveying this message to everyone in the business world. “Last year, the largest companies all made pledges to reduce their carbon emissions to zero by 2050, but it’s the regional companies that are still lagging. For most of them, 2050 or even 2030 is too far away. They have stopped planning for the long-term, but this is one of the worst mistakes you can make. The biggest challenge now is to make companies understand the urgency and, more importantly, the risks of inaction.”
The need to take immediate action is more pressing than most would assume, according to the new documentary on sustainability co-produced by Vermeulen, The Decade of Action. The remarkable footage features interviews with major business leaders, leading climate scientists and representatives of the EU Commission and UN, where they emphasise our rapid approach towards a planetary tipping point in terms of how we use resources.
“Not everyone grasps the notion of this decade being the most critical decade of this century, in which we will define the standard of living of our great-grandchildren,” warns Vermeulen. “Our economic system is based on unlimited growth, without acknowledging the constraints of the planet’s resources. That has already led to nine out of the 15 regulatory systems on the planet reaching tipping point. We must go all-in to achieve the climate goals in the next nine years, to keep our world safe for our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.”
At the Malta Sustainability Forum, Vermeulen will be contributing his knowledge and experience to the Leading with Purpose module, to facilitate the learning curve on corporate sustainability and highlight the enormous opportunity for innovation it represents for today’s companies.
“I’ll be joining the discussion on the importance of purpose, affirming the pivotal role of leaders in defining and implementing a corporate purpose strategy – and why companies with purpose financially outperform companies without. The authenticity and credibility of leaders is an essential factor here,” explains Vermeulen. “But most of all, I hope that everyone who participates in the Forum will be inspired to write a letter to their great-grandchildren explaining what they are doing or not doing for them. It all starts with that.”