An SDG Pioneer recognized by the UN Global Compact and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, Claus Stig Pedersen has led Novozymes Global Sustainability activities for the past decade. He has been central to integrating sustainability into its corporate purpose and strategy and its core business and innovation pipeline, as well as developing the strategic and governance framework that helps Novozymes align and communicate its core business in line with the SDGs.

His own sustainability journey began backpacking and surfing through South East Asia as a student, where many of the beaches he visited were impacted by trash. From environmental activist to a business activist, today at Novozymes his goal is simple: to drive better business for a better world with biology.

Still an avid surfer, we caught up with Claus on the edge of the west coast of Denmark, where days of icy winter storms are often mixed with shorter periods of calm and sunshine. This was the perfect environment to get his perspectives on the next big waves on the sustainability horizon.

Photos by Brian Engblad

It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)

For decades, the sustainability agenda has largely been driven by environmental considerations and challenges, often for business as either as a risk to be managed, or as something to be documented and demonstrate positive, but largely incremental, improvements. That type of approach has served its purpose and served us well, but it’s also largely served its time. Sustainability has mainstreamed into value and supply chains; moved from risk to opportunity; is discussed in financial, societal and governance terms, and is receiving increased attention from consumers, governments and investors.

And businesses are responding in ever growing numbers, reflecting its changed role in society. Looking at the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement, the implementation of the SDGs and responses to COVID-19, it’s also clear that the era of Corporate Social Responsibility is over.

Welcome to a new paradigm – the Socially Responsible Corporate. From the core of a business, driving profits and revenues, companies will be credited and rewarded for making positive social and environmental impacts, based on strategy and on business models that deliver solutions to the world.

All this makes the current “State of Sustainability” an exciting place to be and it’s something that both inspires and energizes me, especially as we can build on strong foundations. That’s also why I have always been an advocate for integrating sustainability into all elements of a business, including strategy and investments in innovation, so that we can understand and incorporate the changing world around us. It’s also why Novozymes has used the SDG parameters for new product development, created internal boards and committees to drive decision-making and, of course, supported the development of initiatives like HelloScience.  

If everybody looked the same (we’d get tired of looking at each other)

For leading companies like Novozymes, it’s fantastic to be able to experience how much a positive a contribution gender, diversity and inclusion can make to an organization, especially when it comes to sustainability and innovation.  

I’m fortunate to work with a team of experts and, as important as their technical competences are, they represent a whole range of ages, life experiences, nationalities, languages and cultures and we have a strong gender balance as well. This combination brings an amazing range of ideas and perspectives to what we do, and perhaps most importantly keeps us anchored in real-world realities and encourages us to think differently.

If there is one thing that the team members have in common, it’s the value that they place on demonstrating kindness and respect for each other, building relevant boundaries and understanding together. I see a similar approach reflected in the HelloScience community and especially where new ideas are celebrated and championed, regardless of where they have come from. These might be intangible values, but they have a massive positive impact on creating an impactful collaboration.   

It’s OK (to not be OK)

The global sustainability community has grown from a physical ecosystem where almost everyone knew everyone personally to also incorporate a digital network – very much like HelloScience.

With Covid-19 and the restrictions this has placed on our ability to interact with each other in real life, a “digital default” has helped many of us stay in contact. But it’s also reinforced the need for us to recognize the way we look at what could be termed Social Sustainability, a nexus of well-being that considers mental, physical and emotional health aspects. This will evolve further and businesses like Novozymes are already developing their own approaches to these issues.  

Having this foundation to work from, which also builds confidence and comfort within a community –especially one that is seeking to pushing new ideas forward to make real and radical change through creativity – has some additional upsides.

The single largest sustainability challenge – and opportunity – we face is how to create a carbon neutral world by 2050 in line with Paris Agreement objectives, which require innovation, action and the courage to succeed. So, the more we create a caring, positive and holistic environment to work, collaborate and innovate in, the more we give everyone the confidence and comfort to experiment, learn from both failures and successes, and help us reach that goal.

The kids are alright

I am very conscious of my responsibility to help empower the next generation of leaders and I thrive on the energy that engaging with students brings, as part of my Professorship at Aalborg University, in Denmark. I think it’s important to harness, nurture and support that enthusiasm and curiosity, and especially to encourage different ways of thinking. It’s far too simplistic to call this a “Millennial Mindset”:

Within my own team, I have noticed I often learn the most from the newest and youngest team members, and that some of the freshest, most creative and inspiring ideas come from the oldest ones.

How to best describe this dynamic? Well, I like to think that we work for a cause and not just a company. It’s a great mantra to have and its one that I’m fully committed to as we build next-gen Sustainability together.  

Its times like these

With COVID-19 vaccines rolling out, the US re-engaging on climate change, and the world’s largest investors driving focus on sustainability, 2021 is off to a cautiously optimistic start.

As the world works to “build back better”, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to spot the next sustainability waves that will shape society, innovation, the environment and the economy.

This isn’t a given, and it requires collaboration and commitment, but I’m more excited than ever by the possibilities in front of us.

Because the world needs business to be sustainable, and that means opportunities for business. For Novozymes, that means better business with biology.

And whilst we work hard to make this happen, let’s enjoy the ride.

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