RECAP: SUSTAINABILITY LIVE London

By Tom Swallow and Lucy Buchholz
For those that missed the highly-acclained SUSTAINABILITY LIVE London last month, delve into this recap to discover the highlights of what was missed

SUSTAINABILITY LIVE London, the leading ESG, net zero and sustainability event in London, took place on September 6th and 7th 2023, at the Business Design Centre (BDC). Welcoming almost 2,000 in-person participants and over 5,000 virtual attendees, the two-day conference united influential figures from diverse industries, allowing them to exchange groundbreaking ideas, proven solutions and actionable insights for a sustainable future.

Those who missed it can watch the highlights on Sustainability Magazine’s YouTube chanel, along with the keynotes, firesides and panel discussions. Likewise, we complied a quick summary for those who were unable to attend the event and who haven’t yet had the chance to catch up on the action.

SUSTAINABILITY LIVE London: Day one

Day one of SUSTAINABILITY LIVE 2023 was as diverse as the industries that the eventimpacts. Many speakers and attendees were keen to share their thoughts, while influencing companies and raising awareness of the impacts that businesses can have on ESG.

Kickstarting the third London-based sustainability conference by BizClik, Scott Birch, Chief Content Officer, and Neil Perry, Head of Multimedia, hosted the main stages of the event. Guest speakers joined the show from a number of leading organisations to discuss more updates to their sustainability strategies, providing some impactful insights for business attendees in the audience as well as viewers watching virtually. 

Some of the key points made throughout the day were related to electrification, finance as a sustainability incentive and electric vehicle (EV) adoption to transform the future of mobility. The sheer scale of interest in sustainability could be seen and counted as the stages spilled into the corridors with more than 900 in-person attendees and 2,100+ viewers online. 

From the headline sponsor Schneider Electric, Steve Smith, Head of Global Marketing: Energy Management Thought Leadership and Communications, said: “It’s great to be here at Sustainability LIVE for the third year in a row and also for Schneider Electric to be recognised for the second consecutive year as number one in the Sustainability Magazine Top 100 Companies. 

“I spoke on the panel titled ‘Net Zero and Planet’. Two of the companies spoke on net-zero emissions reduction while the others were focused more on the planet perspective. Nevertheless, these two topics really aligned throughout the session.” 

On stage one, Smith opened the show with a rundown of the past years of electrical transformation to electricity 4.0 summarising the current transition state in industrial sectors. Schneider Electric being a key organisation shaping the way that energy infrastructure is supplied and constructed to support an all-electric future powered by sustainable energy. 

Sustainability is driven by financial incentives

With a number of initiatives taking place, the key thing now is to scale up efforts to reduce emissions and build renewability into global infrastructure. One of the main points was how finance plays a role in incentivising companies to commit to sustainable actions. As explained in one of the first keynotes of the day by Magali Anderson, Former Chief Sustainability & Innovation Officer at Holcim, financial commitment is a great way to get more members of a company on board with climate actions. 

An example was given, which divulges Holcim’s strategy to meet its Science-Based Targets by 2030. If the company fails to meet its goals it will pay a penalty as collateral to raise the profile of ESG in the business. 

Execution is key to driving sustainable efforts

Aside from incentives, the real trend among the executives at the event is action. Talking individually with the speakers, many of them explained that there is an immense need to execute plans, which is also driven by collaboration – highlighted by Talia Goldman, ESG Manager at Colpac. 

Speaking on how business can make a critical impact on the environment was Beccy Speight, Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB), who explained that commerce can be incredibly impactful on how successful the organisation can be in supporting wildlife. 

The EV transition conversation between industry experts 

Addressing one of the most crucial transformation topics of our time, Sam Clarke, Chief Vehicle Officer of GRIDSERVE, Peter Gallagher, Commercial Director of Extreme E, and Martin Kochman, VP of Customers and Industries at Hitachi, they all spoke in a panel discussion that unpacked the industry, discovering next steps for the future. 

Electrification was a key theme of the event, which is a topic that touches many other sustainability businesses that are driving the expansion of EVs or purely adopting them. Nevertheless, an important topic for the viewers in-house and one that will remain. 

SUSTAINABILITY LIVE London: Day two

On the second day of Sustainability LIVE 2023, the topics of conversation shifted towards technology and the influence that businesses and role models have in supporting diverse teams to become successful in some of the in-demand industries. 

Further to this, many of our speakers talked about circularity as a key corporate initiative for businesses, ethical investment and how they can implement them in their strategies. As speakers and attendees settled into the event format, the stages were full of questions that touched on a broad range industry-specific areas. 

One of the key moments of the day – and an early start for many – was an exclusive panel on Women in Sustainability, leaving then stage one host Scott Birch with minimal work to keep the conversation going. The all-female panel spoke of some key points both in terms of women representing the sustainability portion of business but also female leadership as a whole. All of the panellists were keen to share a new perspective on work-life balance, stressing that each person and family is different. 

On the panel was Michelle Davies, Global Head of Sustainability at EY, who spoke with us backstage. 

“The Women in Sustainability panel was really to show them that there are wider opportunities in sustainability. I’ve been in sustainability for over 20 years as a lawyer and it’s been a fantastic career, it’s been dynamic, innovative and full of fantastic people who all want to make a difference,” says Davies. 

“Sustainability LIVE is a great event because it has such a diversity of topics, hitting some of the most important areas.” 

Casting a bigger spotlight on the circular economy 

Looking into some of the key themes in day two, circularity was certainly a strong contender discussed across a few different panels and keynote sessions. Additionally, SUSTAINABILITY LIVE welcomed a diverse group of people from the packaging industry and food wholesale to construction and engineering, and of course a major influencer in this topic, Gartner.

Dr Ragini Roy, Director of Global Programmes and Impact at the Centre for Big Synergy, London 

Oleseaden Lale, Sustainability Manager at Wilson James 

Julie Owst, Head of Sustainability at Bidfood

Sarah Watt, Sustainability Change Leader at Gartner

From speaking with the panel, it became clear that their views are aligned on how to bring circularity into a number of industries with collaboration and partnership being a key driving of this among industries where waste is a major hurdle. In terms of packaging, we learned that pricing is a useful tool to encourage the reuse of products, having recognised that higher value goods are treated with more care in comparison to disposable products. 

What does a sustainable future look like with generative AI? 

It’s almost impossible to discuss any form of business events or actions without considering the impacts of generative artificial intelligence (AI) on the way that organisations conduct their corporate strategies. 

While this is a very new area of exploration for a number of businesses, Sustainability LIVE was able to host a dedicated panel on generative AI with support from industry experts Sandeep Chandna, Chief Sustainability Officer at Tech Mahindra, Jillian Moore, Sustainability and Global Advisory Lead at Avanade, and Michelle Davies, EY. 

Making finance sustainable for corporate growth

Echoed across the two-day event was finance, which touches upon a few areas. Firstly, there’s the idea of utilising financial incentives to get businesses moving, then there’s the conversation of ethical investment and sustainable finance driving social prosperity throughout business activities. 

Joining in this was Cornelia Andersson, the London Stock Exchange Group’s Head of Sustainable Finance, Data & Analytics, as well as Sören Muller, COO of Water150, and Faye Bennett, CSO of Rio ESG. 

With various components to a sustainable economy, businesses and financial institutions have their respective roles to play in delivering social empowerment projects, decarbonisation initiatives, and technology innovations – such as the imminent shift to electric vehicles (EVs) discussed by James McKerney, Head of Policy & Public Affairs at Pod Point – finance is the enabler of new activities that meet climate needs. 

Educating generations on sustainability and business

With many facets, it appears the speakers all refer to a single notion – sustainability is embedded in everything. Often seen as a buzzword, organisations are now more aware than ever of its importance, which will allow them to integrate sustainability conversations into all commercial endeavours. 

The key to a unified approach globally is to start at school, encouraging more learning around the planet and commercial impacts to help new generations understand the important role that companies play in climate change. 

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