‘We are in a new era – we need a declaration of interdependence’ – three key takeaways from the CGF Global Summit 2021

By Tony Perrotta

From 21-24 June 2021, The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Global Summit brought together business leaders to discuss the new normal and the challenges and opportunities it presents for global brands. More than 650 attendees from 42 countries explored the theme 'Now What?', sharing lessons learned from the pandemic and the key issues facing the industry.

This flagship annual conference was virtual for the first time – having been cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic – and the PA team was there throughout.

A spirit of optimism pervaded the Summit, despite the very real challenges of the past year and the toll it’s taken on firms, their workforces and consumers.

Across keynotes, panel discussions and fireside chats with global C-suite leaders, we heard three resounding themes: sustainability, collaboration and fostering human ingenuity as the industry responds to rapid trend acceleration.

1. Sustainability is top of the agenda

Brands’ emphasis on sustainability has been accelerated due to the urgent matters of climate change and COVID-19. Consumer goods leaders increasingly view sustainable solutions as a business imperative and a positive opportunity, rather than a check-box activity or a tactic to generate revenue from higher-spend consumers.

The C-suite is embracing sustainability as a humanistic and nature-positive imperative, seeing it as their responsibility as stewards and users of precious natural resources. The shift is driving brands away from stale commitments, and toward more urgent, tangible action. The fashion industry is one area where circular business models are quickly catching on, but the shift is spreading among the wider consumer goods market as well.

As Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever, commented in one panel, “Once you've made the commitment to sustainability, it's amazing the ingenuity that teams come up with.”

Jope shared Unilever’s aggressive targets. The company has committed to net-zero carbon emissions in its own operations and those of its suppliers by 2039. In addition, the company won’t use carbon offsets to achieve its goals. Any offsets Unilever purchases will be above and beyond the work it does to reach its science-based emission reduction targets.

We applaud the many leaders standing up and committing to fuelling collective action. However, simply racing to carbon net-zero is not enough. Brands need to develop and apply a net-zero approach across their entire production process.

2. Collaboration across the industry will be essential

System-wide problems require system-wide solutions, and business leaders agree the answers will be in new partnerships, alliances, innovation and technology. Consumer goods firms seek to drive faster action and view industry-wide collaboration as a key tool to do so.

CGF members have aligned around improving environmental sustainability, social sustainability, and health and wellness, as well as increasing transparency across the end-to-end value chain. To scale change, they have joined forces across 10 separate coalitions and industry-wide initiatives. These CGF member groups join cross-industry groups such as the United Nations Global Compact and World Economic Forum in helping industry peers share their best thinking and resources around solving a critical challenge. Jope noted that 31 CGF members, including some of the largest brands in the world, have joined the Race to Zero, a United Nations-led global campaign designed to rally businesses and other stakeholders around a net-zero model.

Increasingly, consumers are holding brands responsible for taking radical ownership of the waste they create and making it easy for buyers to make sustainable choices. While the “Solving Plastic Waste” session we looked forward to was cancelled, we’re committed to helping brands tackle this challenging issue through our work.

3. Leaders must foster ingenuity in a crisis

Companies should create environments of trust with a shared sense of purpose, to empower their people to find solutions to the unprecedented problems posed by the pandemic and climate change.

As COVID-19 rapidly spread in March 2020, leaders around the world mobilised their teams to protect human life. The crisis led to inspiring displays of progress under pressure as designers, manufacturers, suppliers, and innovators all worked together to address the challenges associated with the pandemic. The UK Ventilator Challenge, in which tens of thousands of ventilators were designed, built, and distributed in a matter of weeks, is just one example of the ingenuity achieved during this time.

As we look to a new era of collaboration and ingenuity, PA and Unilever presented a special session at the Summit to reveal our ground-breaking predictive tool, CASI. Shortlisted for Initiative of the Year at the 2021 Business Continuity Awards, CASI is a live dashboard that harnesses and transforms open data to unlock real-time monitoring and predictive intelligence on COVID-19 trends, from a global and regional level down to individual sites worldwide – with 75% prediction accuracy for 30-day forecasts. Unilever teams access CASI over 800 times daily to safeguard their 149,000 people and global supply chain.

When innovative teams with a shared purpose collaborate, the results are truly ingenious.

Find out more about CASI and see a walkthrough of the tool

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“A declaration of interdependence”

Hubert Joly, a professor at the Harvard Business School and former Chairman and CEO of Best Buy, who led that company’s massive turnaround nearly a decade ago, issued a rallying cry echoing this sentiment.

"We need a declaration of interdependence,” he said. “It’s no good just thinking of profit. You cannot run a business if the planet is on fire. All of us are on a journey to learn how to lead from a place of purpose in humanity. A big lesson from the crisis in the last 18 months is we need to learn to lead with all of our body parts, not just our head, but also our heart, our soul, our gut. Human ingenuity will enable us to solve the problems we have, if we get going now.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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About the authors

Tony Perrotta PA sustainability expert Tony Perrotta is a sustainable materials and regenerative economy expert.

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