We are living in a time that has seen the key factors for corporate success change markedly in only a few years. The boundary line between the business and social spheres is fading, and the consequences are penetrating into the very core of corporate decision-making. Creating value is measured less and less in terms of maximizing shareholder value; instead, financial success is tied ever more closely to enthusiastic customers, motivated employees, strong business partners and social trust.
The idea I’m talking about is not necessarily new, but developments in recent years have greatly raised awareness of it. While globalization has created production and supply chains of enormous magnitude and one single company can affect (directly or indirectly) more people than ever before, companies find themselves under a much more powerful microscope than before. The explosion of information and interaction that has followed in the wake of globalization and the rapid increase in digital channels means people around the world are monitoring, discussing and passing judgment on companies more than ever before.
In short, the parameters for how companies do business are being redefined – a development reinforced by a new generation coming of age, one that understands this new environment better than anyone else and that masterfully strokes the keys of participation in order to make a difference. It’s a generation of proactive consumers, confident investors and employees who want to be fully engaged. Yet opportunities abound in this new plurality of digital media and heightened awareness. We now have countless ways to speak directly – and specifically – to our target groups.
There are more and more signs that you sail a risky course in today’s dynamic world if you only look through a narrow telescope: an excessively unilateral focus on quarterly figures, share price fluctuations or individual target groups, for example. You are liable to overlook risks and opportunities and be overtaken by events if you do.
The flip side to that coin is that you can only build sustainable economic strength if you are open to the world around you and if you design your business to unite economic success and social contribution. If you rely on an open exchange and dialogue, you’ll not only secure deep trust but also tap into a plethora of ideas that could prove to be crucial for success.
So what does all that mean?
Rather than “business as usual” when it comes to sustainability, I believe a new, all-inclusive approach is called for – one that takes three dimensions into account:
1. Participation: You need to rely on continuous dialogue with stakeholders, absorb a high number of influences and measure the impact based on the pulse of society. Being open to external points of view triggers innovation, heightens self-awareness and increases flexibility.
2. Integration: Avoid the trap of developing in a bubble. Instead, look at your company’s activities at all points in the value chain and pave the way for an all-around more sustainable business.
3. Inspiration: Recognize how you can use your company’s expertise to not only meet customer needs, but at the same time contribute to social and environmental progress. If you can utilize you core expertise to benefit an intact and prospering environment, you will open up completely new business opportunities.
And don’t think you can simply add this approach to your current activities. It fundamentally shapes your entire business philosophy and is therefore demanding. But that’s precisely what makes it so powerful. For it is not in spite of but actually because of setting ambitious standards for all the dimensions of your businesses that you are able to build the engine that allows you to keep pace with the rapidly changing requirements and set yourself apart from the competition.
Our corporate responsibility
This approach plays a very important role for a leading global logistics company like Deutsche Post DHL – a role that is bigger than the company itself. For it not only makes us stronger, it also benefits our customers and society as a whole.
After all, our business is a key branch of the economy. We enable international exchange, link people around the world and are deeply embedded in commercial processes. We orchestrate production chains worldwide, giving us a unique understanding of the challenges and success factors for sustainable business at every link in the value chain. We work to make business models more sustainable and prepare the way – often blazing new trails – to a carbon-efficient economy.
We have used the past few years to systematically advance our approach to sustainability, establishing a multistep management process that gives equal weight to the external and internal dimensions of responsible corporate leadership. The process ensures that we systematically receive new impetus from stakeholders, that we solidly anchor the principles of sustainable business within our entire organization and that our external activities as corporate citizens and in creating shared value achieve their full impact.
Listening requires dialogue
We talk to a lot of people. It’s the nature of our global business. And I’m not talking only about customers, employees and investors, but also suppliers, policymakers, administrations, the media, NGOs and unions around the world. For us, responsible business starts with listening and maintaining a dialogue with our stakeholders at all levels.
We actively integrate our stakeholders in all sorts of ways, including regular customer and employee opinion surveys, in-depth discussions at forums and conferences, and collaboration in working groups or partnerships. In 2013, we even conducted a structured and multifaceted stakeholder survey in order to gain a more comprehensive picture of the various points of view and did a materiality analysis of it to weigh the significance of the issues addressed. We learned a lot an intend to repeat the survey on a regular basis to ensure that we respond appropriately and at the right time to the changing positions of our stakeholders.
Permanently embed responsible business practices
When you interact with stakeholders, you need to systematically integrate the results into your corporate activities. One of the ways we do this is through our network for Responsible Business Practice (RBP) . This internal, cross-divisional network aims to collect external ideas, identify what action is needed, and ensure that we maintain ethical standards and meet the demands of society.
We have also established a committee of international advisors called the Sustainability Advisory Council (SAC) in order to maintain an ongoing external review of our entire sustainability agenda. Made up of independent experts and opinion leaders from a number of disciplines, the SAC is intended to help us make sure that our sustainability activities are always in line with social requirements and developments.
Creating social and corporate value
Beyond these internally focused activities, we also work as corporate citizens to apply our strengths and core competencies to address social needs. And we want to create value for the company that society and the environment can benefit from as well.
At the heart of our Corporate Citizenship activities are our Group programs, GoHelp and GoTeach , which we run together with experienced partners. GoHelp involves supporting disaster management at airports in cooperation with the United Nations. This includes our Get Airports Ready for Disaster (GARD) program, which we use to help prepare airports in areas at risk of natural catastrophes, as well as our Disaster Response Teams (DRTs) , which provide on-site support at affected airports in the wake of a natural disaster.
GoTeach is an educational program we employ to improve the educational and career opportunities of young people. Here, too, we are engaged around the world with experienced partners, for example, the Teach for All initiative and SOS Children’s Villages, in order to support and foster underprivileged kids.
We also encourage volunteerism among our staff. In 2013, nearly 100,000 employees in 127 countries volunteered their time in over 1,500 community projects as part of our Global Volunteer Day. Furthermore, we launched the Living Responsibility Fund, which we use to support local environmental protection and aid projects that are initiated by our employees. And, our “We Help Each Other” financial assistance fund leverages donations from many employees to provide emergency financial assistance to colleagues affected by disasters.
Our GoGreen program is the primary platform for our environmental protection activities and the primary way we create shared value. In addition to our goal to improve our carbon efficiency by 30% by the year 2020 – and we are over halfway there – we are also developing new environmentally friendly products and services, like carbon-neutral shipping solutions. And we are continuing to develop our portfolio of sustainable services, leveraging our experience to help our customers achieve their own carbon and efficiency targets.
Dialogue breeds trust
Today, if you want to play a key role in the market over the long term you must do more than focus solely on continuously improving your competitive edge. Your business activities must also be in line with the complex expectations and demands of many stakeholders. I’m convinced that the only path to responsible corporate leadership is through dialogue.
We have managed to anchor a corporate culture driven by sustainability and dialogue and are extremely pleased with the insights we have gained from our stakeholders. We see corporate responsibility and corporate performance as inseparably linked.
It’s quite simple, really: the more open you are to your stakeholders and their diverse points of view, the more you understand your own surroundings and the more insight you will gain about how your own positions, services and values are perceived. You increase your credibility as good corporate citizens in the public eye and build trust. And the experience you gain helps you develop a good sense for how to shape your own added-value so that economic success and social responsibility go hand in hand.
It is the corporate responsibility of tomorrow as far as we’re concerned, and we aim to continue the systematic and comprehensive dialogue with our stakeholders. And I believe that because of it we will be in a much better position in the future to tap into new markets and further strengthen the economic and social capabilities of our company.