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Integrating Sustainability Into Export Strategies

Sustainability requires minimising the negative environmental and societal impacts of production and distribution systems. These issues are all the more important in the context of exports, where transport has a direct impact on carbon emissions.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the voluntary integration by companies of environmental and social concerns into their business activities and stakeholder relationships.

Identifying where to take action for the sustainability of your exports

Commitment to sustainability involves making changes in many areas of a company's organisation, and each of these must be analysed and prioritised in terms of their carbon impact.

So the starting point is to carry out a carbon assessment of the company and its exports and then work on each of the possible levers to progressively reduce your company's carbon footprint.

You can then use the following levers to reduce your carbon footprint:

1. Products: improve existing products and services, develop new ones with a focus on sustainability (carbon footprint of products);

2. Procurement: improve raw material and input supply chain management (supplier selection);

3. Process: use cleaner technologies for production (new and more efficient machines, green energy);

4. Distribution: improve logistics and distribution management (depot locations, carbon offset of transport);

5. Life cycle: offer your customers solutions for the future of products after use (second-hand, recycling, repair, etc.);

At the same time, it is advisable to enhance your sustainability efforts by emphasising the following points:

1. Marketing: enhance the perceived value of your product and processes and differentiate yourself from the competition by focusing on health, safety and sustainability (labelling, certification);

2. Pricing: set your prices ​to reflect these sustainability considerations, where appropriate by highlighting the additional cost of sustainability

3. Communication: make investments to improve your company's sustainability image, thus increasing demand and production;

4. Incentives: access public procurement and government support programmes;

5. Engagement: involve the local community in the various countries you serve;

Transforming your exports successfully

The success of such a transformation is based on the classic principles of interim management:

1. Leadership: You cannot implement a sustainability programme without strong leadership. If sustainability is to be integrated, the change must be led assertively.

2. Commitment: It is also essential to get the employees on board to show that the commitment to sustainability is very important for the company and that it is doing something about it.

3. Long term: When you commit to sustainability, you have to take the long view. This is not a change you can make quickly, profit, and move on. It is about your company changing its strategy and practices, moving progressively towards the goal it wants to achieve.

4. Stakeholders: To move towards sustainability, understanding, meeting and exceeding stakeholder expectations is crucial. This starts with identifying and discussing them with stakeholders and then examining the options available to meet their expectations. And, where possible, exceeding those expectations, as differentiation is the right way forward for exporters committed to sustainability.

5. Knowledge and expertise: It is useful to consult specialists to develop knowledge and expertise when this is not readily available in-house.

6. Partnerships: Knowledge and expertise can be gained from external sources, such as UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) or governments (and their agencies) that put sustainability at the top of their agenda. You have to try to identify and then seize opportunities. Partnerships with local or international stakeholders can also help integrate sustainability into your organisation.

7. Iterate: When it comes to sustainability, you need to measure and communicate the results of your actions regularly, in a constant iteration between process and marketing, to take advantage of every step forward. You have to know what you are doing and make the effects of your actions known to your business and stakeholders.

8. Corporate culture: Sustainability must be integrated into your company's culture. This requires a different way of thinking because sustainability requires a disruptive approach.

9. Assess and recalibrate: Rome wasn't built in a day. So progress should be regularly assessed and actions recalibrated. And if that doesn't work, change and introduce new ideas. We recommend that you do not change everything at once but proceed in stages.

What are the benefits of these initiatives for your company?

By taking these actions, your company can significantly increase the value and positioning of its offer and thus gain a competitive advantage.

Benefits Actions
Cost reduction Improved operational efficiency through better management of resources, logistics and distribution.
Increased productivity Improved technical capacity, stakeholder and employee involvement and commitment.
Reputation enhancement Communication about environmental and ethical commitments and adaptation efforts.
Identification of new market opportunities Approaches from companies favouring suppliers with an environmental and social responsibility approach.
Limiting legal and regulatory risks Use of expertise and implementation of sustainability management systems and certifications in a constantly changing legislative framework.
Differentiation from the competition Improved perception of your offer, emphasising your CSR commitments.
Business continuity Implementation of global actions to respond to a sustainability issue that will continue to exist in the long term and increase exponentially.

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