This feature was written by Kamara Bennett while on a Work Shadow opportunity with GoThinkBig

Business is about so much more than making money. Companies, whether big or small, have the potential to change the world for the better.  So last week, we headed to the Ethical Corporation’s Responsible Business Summit, Europe’s leading Corporate Social Responsibility conference, to learn more.

This year’s Responsible Business Summit not only saw more than 350 executives and professionals from the world’s leading organisations including; Kellogg’s, Virgin Atlantic Airways and Lego meet to discuss the importance of sustainability, but it was also the place where O2’s CEO Ronan Dunne announced the next phase of the Think Big Blueprint, the sustainability plan at the core of O2’s business strategy.

Ronan won CEO of the year at the Ethical Corporation awards last year, so he knows his stuff. Between keynotes, panel discussions and interviewing Ronan himself, here’s a summary of what we learnt about building a responsible business…

Sustainability is part of a good business strategy

Sustainability isn’t a “bolt on” to doing good business, but an integral part of any good business strategy. O2’s latest mission, which sets out to help 20 million people live better using technology by 2020, will focus on driving value for society, the planet and shareholders.

“I am exceptionally proud of who we are as O2 and the fact that we put sustainability at the heart of our business purpose,” Ronan Dunne told us. “I am the father of a 22-year-old daughter; I want her to have the opportunity I had to have an economy that’s vibrant, a society that’s responsible, open and friendly, but also a planet where we all respect the natural resources. I think that companies have a huge responsibility in doing this because we set the standards by which other people operate. A big business like O2 with a very well-known brand has the opportunity to influence others.”

“The exciting thing about the new plan is a combination of three things: the power of the O2 brand, the power of technology and the power of the people. People want to be a part of a winning team, so we’ve created space for every individual to be the success that they deserve to be.”

“Companies have a huge responsibility because we set the standards by which other people operate. A big business like O2 with a very well-known brand has the opportunity to influence others.”

Collaboration is key in leadership

While launching the new O2 Think Big Blueprint, Ronan noted that responsible businesses work with others.

“The first thing I did was recruit somebody who knew a lot more about sustainability than me, Bill Eyres, to run the sustainability team. On the day of the interview, I told Bill that my ambition was to do him and me out of a job, meaning I wanted us to embed sustainability into the core of the business, so that when people asked ‘What do you do around sustainability at O2?’, we’d say ‘It’s just how we do things around here’. And that’s what we’ve done.”

“I wanted us to embed sustainability into the core of the business, so that when people asked ‘What do you do around sustainability at O2?’, we’d say ‘It’s just how we do things around here'.”

Don’t be scared of setting ambitious goals

The first Think Big Blueprint aimed high and consisted of three ambitious goals underpinned by 40 commitments – a deliberate challenge to inspire and encourage the business to do things differently, and make sure that everyone can be digitally confident. With O2 meeting and exceeding their targets, Ronan and #TeamO2 definitely know a thing or two when it comes to setting goals.

“Whenever you set a target, you need to do a couple of things: be realistic about what you’re trying to achieve, understand what you need to do to achieve it, and give people space to be amazing,” said Ronan. “By putting all of those components together – understanding what we wanted to do, how we could do it, and creating space for people to add their personality, their energy and their enthusiasm, we had a win/win situation. During Blueprint One, we engaged people all across the business, and our customers. While the plan was very ambitious, we exceeded on a number of our targets because we created conditions in which people believed they could really make a difference.”

“Whenever you set a target, you need to do a couple of things: be realistic about what you’re trying to achieve, understand what you need to do to achieve it, and give people space to be amazing.”

Acting responsibly is rewarding

For O2, putting sustainability at the heart of the business drives financial performance, as well as social impact.

“Our customers want to do business with brands that they trust,” Ronan told us. “It’s not just about the range of products and services, it’s about whether we’re responsible within our local communities, our work practices,  the way we impact the planet with our carbon management, waste management and water management. While a customer won’t always say that, they know by reputation which businesses are good businesses and which aren’t.”

“Our employee engagement has gone up because people want to work for a company that holds itself accountable to society. The strategy has also delivered better business outcomes. The fact that we can have a good responsible sustainable business with a passion for doing the right thing, which engages employees and delivers better business outcomes, makes me exceptionally proud.”

“Our customers want to do business with brands that they trust, it’s not just about the range of products and services, it’s about whether we’re responsible.”

Job hunting? Thinking about sustainability could help you out

So, when it comes to finding the perfect workplace for you, is sustainability something that job seekers should take into account? Ronan thinks so. “Find an environment in which you can be your best self and have the chance to excel,” he advised. “If you’re someone who is interested in making a difference, identify an employer who is publicly accountable and responsible. When you’re starting your career everyone wants the chance to demonstrate how good they are and how they can contribute to a great outcome, so a company that has values similar to yours is going to be a great potential employer.”

“People who show an interest in sustainability and society signal to us at O2 that they’re ideal candidates to work in our business, and we know that young people who are involved in social action in their local community also have skills that are relevant to the workplace. We look to recruit people with an attitude that desires to make a difference, as we know that this attitude will turn itself into talent, which we can develop through training.”

"If you’re someone who is interested in making a difference, identify an employer who is publicly accountable and responsible.”

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