In poker, the concept of “going all in”, of betting all your chips on one hand, is not for the faint-hearted – one false step, one nervous glance, and you risk losing everything.  Amongst businesses and investors, you wouldn’t think the notion of “going all in” after one idea or one investment would have too much credence; it’s widely accepted that diversifying and spreading risk is essential. 

So, why then, are we hearing more and more sustainability professionals talking about companies “going all in”?

In a corporate responsibility and sustainability context, an interesting shift has been happening over the last few years. The focus on incremental improvement, on gradually minimizing negative social and environmental impacts, is giving way to a much bigger, bolder approach that sees leading companies committing to leaving a lasting positive legacy on society and the planet.

Earlier this year, I heard a compelling case for this put forward by Steve Howard, Ikea’s Chief Sustainability Officer, who argued that strategies aiming for 100% improvement within an ambitious timeframe (e.g. going for 100% renewable energy or for sending zero waste to landfill) had the advantage of clarity and simplicity, which helps both in winning over key stakeholders and in catching the interest of investors. As Mr. Howard put it in his engaging speech, “if you have a 90% target then more that 10% of people will construct the case to be in the 10%” that don’t contribute.

In Ikea’s case, “going all in” has meant making some brave business decisions, for example, discarding plans for incremental improvements in standard CFL lighting in favor of phasing out these products entirely (instead pledging to sell only LED lighting by 2016). Ikea has also joined the likes of BT, M&S and SAP in committing to 100% renewable energy, with a target that by 2020 it will produce more renewable energy than it uses.

Capgemini last year linked up a number of companies including Coca-Cola, Kingfisher, BT and SKF in committing to becoming “net positive” i.e. to becoming an organization whose positive impacts outweigh its negative ones. This sounds simple, but what does it mean in practice?

As a starting point, it means recognizing that our ability to instigate positive change extends beyond our own internal business operations, in fact we are able to influence our whole value network: our suppliers, business partners, employees, contractors and clients. In the UK, Capgemini has been working with leading non-governmental organization Forum for the Future, to map out our value network in order to better understand opportunities where we can use our influence to make a difference.

It also means making big, bold ‘all-in’ commitments. Excitingly, this year Capgemini has launched a new set of environmental objectives that will ensure that we not only continue reducing our own carbon footprint (something we have been steadily doing over the last few years), but that we take steps to reduce the carbon emissions of our clients, suppliers and employees too.

In fact, we’ve committed to reducing carbon emissions within our ecosystem by three times our own emissions by the end of 2017. This will mean:
• using our technology and business process expertise to help our clients cut their carbon,
• collaborating with suppliers and business partners to reduce emissions within our supply network; and
• helping our people to reduce their carbon footprint at home.

This is no small task: if our own emissions remained stable, it would mean reducing around 150,000 tons of CO2e, the equivalent of the emissions of the Caribbean Island of Dominica, or of 121,000 return flights from London to New York. However, nor is it an entirely new area of focus: our development of Merlin, which in 2010 was the most sustainable data center in the world, and our provision of smart metering services to the utilities sector are just two examples of the kinds of innovation which should help us to meet this objective.

In our latest UK Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (CR&S) Report released this week, we celebrate the progress and achievements of our CR&S program in the UK and outline what these new commitments will mean for us as a company.