[Video] Building a sustainable business: no escape, no excuse but a genuine opportunity!

Jun 13, 2022
  • finance
  • automotive

As the clock ticks on the climate crisis, organizations roll up their sleeves to put sustainability into practice. And they have no choice, says Ann Peeters from Agoria, Belgium’s federation for the tech industry: “Businesses that fail to engage in ESG may no longer be in business within 5 to 10 years.” The good news? Investing in planet, people and profit pays off. At least, that’s what we learned at the recent delaware roundtable discussion on sustainability. Read our 3-part blog series to learn how your peers are building a sustainable business. In blog 1: why would you decide to act on ESG?

Around our ‘sustainability’ table:

  • Erik Peeters, CFO of VPK Group
  • Sam Strijckmans, CEO & President of Nitto EMEA
  • Jan Daem, product compliance manager at Barco
  • Ann Peeters, project leader studies center at Agoria 
  • Evelien Vanhooren, partner at delaware

Well, we might as well answer the ‘no escape or no excuse’ dilemma we put in the title right away: all the participants in our roundtable discussion agreed that there’s no escaping ESG requirements, as it’s a must to save our planet and counter the dramatic impact of the climate crisis. At the same time, there’s simply no excuse not to embed sustainability in your corporate strategy: our entire ecosystem – customers, shareholders, investors and employees – demand and challenge us to balance profit, planet and people performance. What’s more, you’re sure to reap the rewards in the long run.


Discover in the video below how Nitto, Barco, VPK Group and delaware approach sustainability. Agoria shares some key insights from their recent sustainability study.


Sustainability, CSR, ESG: what’s in a name?

Sustainability is the general term referring to all the environmentally, socially and economically conscious efforts aimed at safeguarding future generations.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a business approach in which companies integrate  social, environmental, and economic concerns into their corporate values and policy.  

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) is a set of measurable criteria used to evaluate how eco-friendly, socially responsible, ethical and profitable business measures are. 

While the objectives may be overlapping, the main difference is that ESG focuses on measuring and evaluating how well a business is doing, while CSR companies can voluntarily self-assess if they are meet the objectives. 

Triggered by the EU Green Deal 

Sam Strijckmans of Japanese multinational Nitto opens with a positive message: “Our sustainability journey has created an exciting new vibe in our company. Something I never expected when we kicked off our first ESG initiatives in 2018. It was mainly the upcoming EU Green Deal that triggered us to take the leap. We saw how a growing number of plastic consumer products were being replaced by alternatives and decided to proactively invest in sustainability before being urged to do so by our B2B customers or the authorities.”

Our sustainability journey has created an exciting new vibe in our company. Something I never expected when we kicked off the program.
Sam Strijckmans, CEO & President of Nitto EMEA

Prepare for new reporting obligations

The EU Green Deal was also one of the reasons for VPK Group to accelerate sustainability – even though circularity and sustainability were already in their DNA: they recycle paper and cardboard, which they re-use to produce recyclable and biodegradable protective cardboard packaging. 

Erik Peeters admits that sustainability used to be a marketing story: they are proud of their circular products and have always communicated extensively about it. Now they’ve substantially raised the bar: “Our management is strict about integrating the 3P principle - planet, people and profit - in everything we do. For me as a CFO, it’s key to embrace ESG, so we are ready for the new sustainability reporting obligations that are fast approaching.”

Deadline 2023

The Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and EU taxonomy that Erik refers to will mark a step-change for many organizations, emphasizes Agoria’s Ann Peeters: “The list of Agoria member companies obliged to report on their ESG performance from 2023 onwards will rise from 77 today to approximately 300. That’s over 200 more companies, some of which are definitely still unprepared.” 

Ann knows, because Agoria just finished the first sustainability report that covers the Belgian tech sector. It provides a clear overview of where tech companies are, helping them benchmark their actions against their peers. In addition, it includes a template for a sustainability report and inspiring examples. “The report and roadmap we’re developing are much needed these days. While some companies do excel in ESG, many others are skeptical or unsure where to start.”

Meeting customer expectations – and more

Barco, for their part, have been on the road to sustainability since 2015. That makes them one of the early adopters – and a role model – in the tech industry. The Financial Times even includes them in their 2022 “Europe’s Climate Leader” list.  

“The push came from one of our customers,” Jan Daem explains. “They asked us to measure our carbon footprint and report it to the Carbon Disclosure Project. It was an eye-opener to see just how many CO2 emissions were produced by our popular cinema projectors.”

Barco started drawing up an action plan to reduce their footprint and have accelerated their efforts ever since. Jan: “The upcoming EU Green Deal, Reporting Directive and EU Taxonomy keep us sharp, reminding us that we have to continue improving our environmental and social impact.”

The upcoming EU Green Deal, Reporting Directive and EU Taxonomy keep us sharp, reminding us that we have to continue improving our environmental and social impact.
Jan Daem, product compliance officer at Barco

For our future generations 

For delaware, the story is slightly different, says Evelien Vanhooren: “We offer services rather than products, so sustainability is more about raising awareness among our employees to save energy and think twice before using their cars. In addition, we increasingly try to inspire our customers to make eco-friendly choices and we take sustainability into account when selecting partners. Data centers, for example, consume a lot of energy. Making sustainable choices is key there.”

A sustainable business also cares about people and about the communities around them. That aspect was, in fact, delaware’s initial focus. “For years, our own employees have been suggesting and working together with charities as well as community and environmental initiatives to support under the ‘WeCare’ program,” Evelien continues. 

“Moreover, people-related topics like diversity and sustainable employment are embedded in our strategy: delaware was established in 2003 with the explicit aim of passing the organization on to the next generation. In our company description we explicitly claim we take responsibility for our relationship with the social and ecological environment. Still, now it’s high time to professionalize our approach in every field.”

delaware was established in 2003 with the explicit aim of passing the organization on to the next generation.
Evelien Vanhooren, partner at delaware

Feel the heat

Just like Evelien, everyone around the table feels an increasing pressure to act, from a broad range of stakeholders: regulators, but even more so customers, employees, investors and society as a whole

Banks, too, increasingly integrate sustainability considerations into their corporate lending activities,” Ann adds. “Meeting certain ESG performance – and reporting – objectives, is becoming a requirement for money lending.” 

Last but not least, everyone agrees how important sustainability has become to win the war for talent. “I’m surprised to see how many job candidates have browsed through our sustainability report and dare to be critical,” says Erik. “Just last week, two new colleagues asked me how they can impact Barco’s sustainability performance,” Jan adds. “Purpose and impact have become key in attracting new talent. Sustainable businesses definitely benefit from their approach.”

Banks increasingly integrate sustainability considerations into their corporate lending activities.
Ann Peeters, project leader studies center, Agoria

The perks of being sustainable 

What about actual, tangible profit – as in: numbers? “Traditionally, we expect return from our business investments within three years,” says Sam. “The payback on investments to raise the sustainability of operations or products is much longer, even eight to ten years, but that’s fine with us. Even our shareholders and investors are ok with it, as we all know it will make our business better in the long run.”

That said, with the price of both energy and emission rights soaring these days, the energy-saving measures that Nitto, VPK Group and Barco have taken, are already saving them lots of money. 

“To us, sustainability is not about profit or loss. It’s simply the only way forward for businesses,” Erik concludes. “Of course, that way forward is paved with quite a few challenges, yet we’ve seen that sustainable businesses are successful businesses,” adds Ann. That ‘new vibe and dynamism’ that Sam mentioned in the beginning of the discussion, might definitely add to that success.

To us, sustainability is not about profit or loss. It’s simply the only way forward for businesses.
Erik Peeters, CFO, VPK Group

Remember from this blog:

There’s no escape: the time to act on ESG is now

  • The pressure is high from regulators: EU Green Deal, EU taxonomy and CSRD. 
  • Customers, shareholders, investors and employees are all putting the pressure on.
  • Even financing and banking are involved in ESG. 

There’s no excuse: the return is real

  • ESG investments help attract – and retain – customers, shareholders, investors and talent. 
  • Sustainability efforts may even trigger a whole new vibe and dynamic in your teams. 

So, there’s no excuse not to take sustainability action. Yet, where do you start? Stay tuned for the 5 key tips we took from the round table, in blog 2 of this series (coming next week). Make sure you don't miss anything from our sustainability series by subscribing for the CFO Connect newsletter.