Bill Cowie CA: ‘Every business needs a guiding set of principles’
Bill Cowie CA, Head of Risk Management and Compliance, Range and Supply at Inter IKEA Group, explains IKEA’s step-by-step approach to placing values and sustainability at the centre of business operations
IKEA is a franchise business
The main group and its three core businesses own the IKEA concept, develop and design the products and source and distribute the range to 12 franchisees, the largest of which is INGKA Group. My role, sitting in Range and Supply, is to ensure that we have a holistic view of all key risks and mitigations in our supply chain and to assure compliance among our 1,900 suppliers.
One of the ways we achieve this is with IWAY, our code of conduct for suppliers ensuring minimum requirements on environmental, social and working conditions.
There are eight values guiding the entire business
Togetherness; caring for people and planet; cost-consciousness; simplicity; renew and improve; different with a meaning; give and take responsibility; and lead by example. The values underpin our culture of our co-workers and our recruitment.
The platform is our values. Then you need six steps to help you become a sustainable company:
- Establish clear policies and commitments. It is important to have a sustainability policy integrated through the entire business, along with a governance system that sets guidelines and systems for accountability.
- Conduct risk analysis. What are the risks to your business achieving strategic objectives? That can be sustainability, human rights or even an unforeseen event that affects your company reputation.
- Decide on treatment. Once you are clear about your mitigations, prioritise these in resource planning and incorporate them into your annual budgeting cycle.
- Communicate and train. Ensure there are clear processes to enable co-workers to carry out tasks that relate to sustainability and their roles and responsibilities.
- Put grievance mechanisms in place so that colleagues can speak up. If you don’t create those internal channels, colleagues will express themselves elsewhere, such as on social media. Allowing staff to be open and honest is vital. It shows you are listening to one another.
- Performance reporting. This is the final part of the improvement loop to track the effectiveness and progress of efforts through sustainability reporting and by being transparent internally and externally.
When I look at a company, I want to understand what it stands for
That’s true both as employee and customer. A key part of that is the time horizon it’s planning towards. A shorter time horizon means you might be more focused on shareholders rather than longer-term vision. Profit is important, but it’s important as a means to achieving the broader strategic ambitions.
Listening to millennials has had a major impact on us
They affect our product innovation, design, purchasing, investment and employment decisions. In the past, it was common for ethical and environmental considerations to be dismissed as irrelevant but millennials have questioned the status quo and its effect on our planet. They’re using their voice to say: it’s not about money, it’s about a good quality of life.
Question how products are made and distributed
At IKEA, we’ve set up many initiatives, such as one with Syrian refugees in Jordan, so people can earn a fair living making our products and their children can go to school. We’ve just released our first air purifier, following customer feedback. More countries and companies now acknowledge the need to push for sustainability, as we see with the move towards electric vehicles, solar panels and wind power. IKEA is invested in all these areas to help to ensure climate-positive activities.
CAs have a responsibility to get involved
At the centre of our profession is a custodial responsibility to share what is true and fair. We bring insight, objectivity and ethics to business. CAs are best placed to evaluate past, present and future and to support independent verification of business claims, to reduce risk of green and social washing. The younger generation want to see we’re taking forward steps.
Find out more about how ICAS is promoting sustainability by accessing the ICAS sustainability hub.