How family businesses are guiding the sustainability journey

May 30, 2023
1 year ago
Andrea Calabro
Andrea Calabro, STEP Project Global Consortium academic director

This is an excerpt of an article published by Campden Wealth, a family-owned, global membership organization providing education, research and networking opportunities to families of significant wealth.

In the New Global Report from KPMG Private Enterprise and the STEP Project Global Consortium, a spotlight is put on how family businesses have made sustainability an integral component within their business models.

Titled "A Road Well-Traveled – How Family Businesses are Guiding the Sustainability Journey," the report brings together personal insights of family business leaders, combined with sustainability performance data gathered from 2,439 family businesses across 70 countries and territories.Calabro_mug

With 43% of the survey respondents reporting high levels of performance on the sustainability index and a marked shift toward considering ESG measures an essential investment in the future, the report shares some of the key requirements to help businesses improve sustainability implementation.

Here, STEP Project Global Consortium Academic Director Andrea Calabro discusses the aims of the report and the future landscape of sustainability in business.

What were you hoping to discover from the New Global Report, and what were the report’s most eye-opening findings?

Our aim was to get a specific recipe for how family businesses can become more sustainable. What we discovered is that different types of family businesses follow different types of sustainability journeys — there is not a specific path toward their end goal.

In the report, it's really interesting to see how, when you change institutional context or culture, the sustainability questions or requirements differ. From a Western perspective, sustainability looks completely different than, for example, in India or Africa. I think this is just the first chapter of what we have been disentangling with this research. I hope that in the following months, we can add more findings, such as the points on which family businesses can leverage and unlock sustainability performances within their businesses and also in the environments in which they are embedded — for example, digitalization and technology, which are considered as an enabler of sustainability practices in family business.

From the research and case studies we’ve heard, if you want to better understand the impact of your business activities on the environment, you need to start tracking in a more specific way.

We also found that it’s not enough to just promote gender diversity in some parts of family organizations. We have very strong findings that having at least 30% women seated on the board of directors enables family businesses to unlock more sustainability outcomes. We’ve also found this effect is amplified when there are more women in other parts of the organization, including as owners, top management team members and employees. It's like a snowball effect, and I think this adds more to the standard discussion about diversity and how promoting especially gender diversity in an organization can unlock better sustainability outcomes.

How can families measure their sustainability impact?

In the questionnaire, we used some indicators and factors to exactly measure the impact that specific actions of family businesses can have on profit, people and planet.

For example, if we take the environmental or "planet" piece, we asked, "What are the effects of actions that the business is taking on the environment?" — specifically, "How much does the family firm care about adopting practices that prevent pollution?"

On the social or "people" side of things, we were looking at actions in relationship to inclusion and diversity. For example, inclusion of women in different parts of the workplace.

Under "profit," we asked which goals they are prioritizing that are noneconomic. For example, do they like to invest in initiatives for the environment or for society via philanthropic actions? Or do they nurture next-generation family members with training to make them more responsible owners?

What do you think the sustainable-business landscape will look like in five years’ time?

If you look at the change from the last three to five years, the landscape has already altered a lot, especially in the Western world.

Just a few years ago, many family businesses were not looking at sustainability as a priority in their agenda, but they are now more and more aware of its importance across all aspects of doing good business.

I really believe that much of the work that is being done and still needs to be done is creating a change of mindset in people. It depends a lot on the institutional development in different countries, but I think that more and more people are looking to see if family businesses are sustainable organizations and asking what the impact is they’re making on the environment and the well-being of people in society.

I think a challenge for family business is for them to work better on their employer branding. Because they have survived and thrived for 100 years, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t continue to adapt and evolve.