The innovative businesses taking ESG to the next level

Key takeaways

ESG is high on the agenda for many businesses. However, certain organizations and companies are going even further, forging a new path and setting sustainability examples the rest of us can learn from. HSBC invited some of these ESG trailblazers to discuss key issues around sustainability at this year’s Drive 2022 event1.

For these businesses, sustainability is at the centre of their mission statements. They explain how they have built value around it. They also share insight on the blockers they faced, and how they overcame them.

Finding purpose in sustainability

For many sustainability trailblazers, sustainability sits at the heart of the business proposition.

“For us, the main insight that led to the formation of the company was realizing that we have 10 years to fight climate change,” says Rohit Bhattacharya, CFO, Next Gen Foods. “This is probably the largest existential crisis we face as humans. And, therefore, we needed to create a product that could create impact in that short timeframe.”

Bhattacharya’s company, Next Gen foods, is a two-year-old startup with an aim to make the world’s food system more sustainable with plant-based foods. Their first product is TiNDLE, which is imitation chicken made from plants. It was launched in Singapore in March 2021. They are now in more than 400 restaurants across Singapore, Hong Kong, the Middle East, and North America, and they have just announced their launch in the UK.

“When you think about climate change, people think about fuel, the combustion engine or architecture. Agriculture somehow hasn’t got as much attention,” explains Rohit.

He says the company saw food as the most immediate way individuals can make a difference and found a solution whereby rather than giving up meat, people could eat something delicious, but plant based, perhaps once a week or twice a week.

Making an impact was also a key driver for Simple energy, says co-founder Ankit Gupta. Simple energy is an electric vehicle (EV) company formed and operating in India, the largest two-wheeler market in the world.

Their soon-to-be-launched electric scooter can charge in less than two hours, says Gupta. More than 50,000 people have already pre-paid for one, ahead of it coming to market. The company spent almost four years developing the product.

Ankit believes that if you want people to adapt to electric vehicles, it cannot be done by government policies. It has to be done by creating excitement around a product.

The cost of sustainability

“For many the perception is that sustainability means extra cost – but is this really true? According to Gabriel Tan, Director, GUAVA Amenities, it’s a myth that sustainability is more expensive.

GUAVA Amenities, established in 2004, with headquarters in Singapore, provides guest amenities and healthcare supplies to help global hospitality chains, airlines and cruise liners to improve profits while embracing sustainability at scale. Their solutions are aimed at minimizing waste and carbon emissions, focusing on advancing UN sustainable development goals (SDG) 11, 12 and 13.

Gabriel shares an example of a major project GUAVA did for a large hospitality group. GUAVA put in place sustainable solutions that reduced their client’s costs by more than 20%. They also reduced their waste by more than 12 tonnes. And, at the same time, they managed to win a sustainability award.

“Sustainability is a win for all, if you do it right,” he says. “Of course, there is a lot of strategy and thinking that goes beyond the superficial things in order to achieve this.”

Ben Wong, Head of Open Innovation, Eureka Nova, agrees.

He gives an example of a startup called Chomp, which alleviates food wastage in Hong Kong by offering revenue to restaurants for leftover food, which is then sold at a discounted price.

“What could have been waste is now additional revenue for a lot of the restaurants and also maintaining sustainable goals by alleviating a lot of food wastage,” he says.

Meanwhile, Wong’s company, Eureka Nova, a New World Group Member, identifies technology pain points, and matches them with technology startups that can solve these problems.

One of the accelerators they have created is called Impact Commons, Asia’s first UN SDG accelerator. They use reverse engineering to look at sustainable goals and then find sustainability startups that can come in and accelerate the process of trying to reach some of these goals.

Selling sustainability

“Yet sometimes it is unavoidable that sustainability does come at a higher price point.

Tan shares his advice for this scenario: “What kind of customers are you trying to target? And are these customers aware of the benefits of your products? If the customer is not aware, then you need to educate them, instead of just selling to them.”

Once the customer understands that they need these solutions, then you need to be able to justify your value, he says.

“Why is it that for this particular need that they have, you are the best company or the best partner?”

Being forward thinking

“Sustainability-minded businesses tend to have an eye on the future.

“Sustainability is not just about the environment, but it is about being able to sustain what we are doing with our business into the long term,” says Tan.

“I think the key is, what is your vision?” Gupta explains. Is your vision to just get in market early with a product on hand? Or to adapt to new forms of energy, which will evolve over time and be agile enough to change your organization accordingly?

With innovative methods and thinking, these trailblazers are transforming our planet through environmental and social change. And along the way, hopefully they have inspired others to be bold ESG trailblazers.

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