How to add value to your business, the environment and society with sustainable practices

A short interview with Irene Loucaides, founder and Managing Director of Grow Sustainability Consulting. Grow Sustainability Consulting assists organizations that wish to improve their performance through the development and implementation of impactful Sustainability strategies.

If you’re a business owner, the days of operating solely for profit are gone. Many companies now focus largely on operating in an ethical and sustainable way. Go Digital Globally is a company that has not only drawn and implemented a clear CSR policy but aims to promote and encourage all companies to follow this example. A few days ago we met Irene Loucaides, owner and founder of Grow Sustainability Consulting. Grow assists organizations to improve their performance through the implementation of impactful sustainability and CSR strategies. We thought that it is our duty to give her efforts a shout-out! Enjoy the interview below!

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1. Tell us a few words about Grow.

Grow was founded with the vision of contributing to the creation of a just and sustainable world through the mobilization of resources for a higher purpose beyond corporate profit. Our mission is the support of sustainable development through positive social impact. Our goal is to offer sustainability expertise to organizations through the implementation of CSR and fundraising strategies that add value both to the organizations that employ our services and the society at large.

2. How did you get your idea or concept for the business and when did you "charter" it?

I started working in CSR almost 20 years ago when the concept was very different to what it is today. Thankfully we’ve come a long way since then. CSR used to be focused more on philanthropy mainly for businesses’ PR purposes. When I was working at the Cyprus Anticancer Society, I had the pleasure of attending the International Fundraising Congress twice where apart from NGO’s, there were also a lot of fundraising agencies that participated in this amazing event where activists and change makers from all over the world gather annually to exchange views and ideas on how to make the world better and I started thinking of all these NGO’s in Cyprus that can’t afford to employ a fundraising officer and would much rather outsource this function. Then after I got into Sustainability Reporting in my role as Head of Communication for the Louis Group, and saw the other side of things- from a corporate perspective and how sustainability practically touches every single business function and how a corporation must act responsibly in all aspects of its operation, it became clear to me that there was a big gap for these services in Cyprus and also a need for specialized consulting services in the field to first of all educate enterprises in Cyprus about the importance of this relatively new subject and then advise them on their strategic direction in the field.

Looking at how rapidly things are moving on the subject across the world…

I believe we have a lot to do still and I’m happy that we are having all the more conversations on the matter and business leaders are recognizing the value of sustainability as a business tool that drives performance and minimizes risks. So the 1st lockdown, gave me the time I always needed to put my thoughts down and make them a reality and so I did and Grow was created and I’m very happy to see that despite the difficult circumstances brought about by the Pandemic and all the restrictions imposed, grow is growing and acquiring its space in the business ecosystem which is rapidly changing and adapting to the new reality.

3. What's the biggest factor that has helped you be successful?

I have always looked at the forest rather than the tree and that has helped me take a strategic direction to every challenge at hand. I consider myself a problem solver so whenever I saw a square in a round peg, I tried to find a way to make it work even if the problem was not in my area of expertise or my role and responsibilities at the time. My worst nightmare is someone saying:” But we’ve always done it this way!” That gets me wired and even more motivated to bring about positive and sustainable change. But nothing can be done without collaboration, patience and kindness. These are the 3 things that I believe are the key to anything being successful.

 Not just in business. Afterall, we are humans. And corporations are run by people. So we need to always remain human in all transactions and all business deals. Organizations’ values are also human and they must match our values whether we are customers, employees or shareholders.

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4. What company is your role model?

Since I referred to square pegs in round holes I will say apple. They are pioneers in tapping into stakeholders’ needs and breaking stereotypes. Can you imagine if they had given into “But we have always done it this way?” They were one of the first corporations to look into WHY we are doing something rather than the what. To place purpose at the heart of their business strategy and let that guide every business decision they ever made. And look where that got them!

5. In a for-profit world and a surviving race for most of the businesses how hard is it to propose CSR?

Sustainability is no longer a nice to have. It’s a must have, if a business wants to stay resilient and competitive. So I believe more and more businesses are realizing that and at some point, even those who don’t will be forced to as more and more investment firms and banks are looking to ESG metrics to guide their investment and financing choices. There is now a clear link between a company’s financial performance and its sustainability strategy and it is important to understand how all these factors affect an organization and its impact and use clear Key Performance Indicators that provide the metrics to facilitate decision making. Companies that respond well to these metrics are more likely to perform well financially and this is a huge trend worldwide. That is why we see green bonds gaining ground. That is why Sustainability reporting criteria is becoming stricter and stricter and more companies are having to disclose their non-financial performance. The problem is convincing clients to engage in these practices even before they are forced to on a voluntary and proactive basis. Convincing them that analysing all these factors will improve their company’s performance. But when you look out of Cyprus that is certainly where things are going.  

6. What is your development strategy?

Cyprus is at the primary stage in this space and we are really excited to see where all this is heading. There are so many developments taking place at a global scale. The catastrophic effects of climate change are forcing rapid developments in the field and I believe it is a really exciting time to be working in this area- the area of Sustainable development. Working groups from all facets of society, government and business are trying to establish common global reporting criteria and we are constantly finding ourselves learning new things, new disciplines, new principles, new ways of working. We are now at the phase where we need to invest a lot of time and effort in education and training both for us and our clients.  We hope that in 5 years’ time, things will have settled and all businesses- not just large sized organizations will be more familiar with sustainability as a term and recognize the value of implementing sustainability strategies across the board. Only then will we be able to have real positive social and environmental impact.

7. What are your ideals and what really motivates you?

I truly believe in the power of mobilizing resources for the greater good and want to help those with resources manage them in a way that has a positive environmental and social impact but is also sustainable enough to ensure that they can do it over and over again over time. Solving the world’s most challenging societal problems requires new ways of thinking and behaving both on a personal and collective level and I know that no single individual, organization or even sector can do it alone. It takes collective and continuous effort. What motivates me? The fact that I want to leave my children and grandchildren a better world. A world in which they can thrive!

8. What motivates the companies to contribute towards CSR?

It used to be good media exposure or the fact that donations were tax exempt. But we’ve come so far since then! When purpose is placed at the heart of business strategy, and leadership commits to sustainable development, then not only is the organization more fit to deal with a rapidly changing environment but it also responds to stakeholders needs and expectations. Sustainability is more than just making a donation or planting trees. It is about making real contributions to your community and the world at large, even if no one is watching. Sustainability is about bridging the gap between profit and purpose. Sustainability can drive innovation, brand differentiation and win business.  If recognized as an organic business tool it can become a long-term success factor and a strong competitive advantage. Through sustainable development, an organization can Improve its relations with its stakeholders, achieve higher customer satisfaction, motivate personnel, lower costs by reducing waste and energy consumption, lower risks in its value chain, Build a positive image and reputation and finally Increase profit.

9. Is there any government support for the companies in implementing CSR policies?

Not really apart from the fact that charitable donations are tax exempt as previously mentioned. But governments worldwide are deep into discussions about carbon tax which is the only concrete way to make a real shift in climate change at the moment but that can only happen when governments give real incentives for investments in R&D. These innovations will develop the technologies that will help close the price gap between more environmentally friendly alternatives. Until then, the only incentive companies have is that it is in their best interest to be responsible. Because companies can only flourish in healthy and prosperous societies based on healthy values, healthy structures and healthy processes.

10. What CSR problem have you identified in Cyprus and what is your approach?

At the moment Cyprus is being fined by the EU because it lags behind from the EU average on various environmental issues and needs to make progress in these but that requires behavior change that stems from education and culture.  Also the Cyprus Government largely depends on NGO’s on doing its work on various social issues and again that requires systemic change. I believe that Cyprus’ recovery largely depends on its sustainable development and only when that becomes common practice do we stand a chance of convincing foreign investors to trust Cyprus with their operations. At Grow we know that factors such as the Environment, society and governance affect an organization’s performance and its impact on the environment and society and use clear KPI’s to measure its performance in these enabling the decision-making process. So if Cyprus wishes to increase its competitiveness, it will need to improve its profile in these issues and based on these criteria.

11. What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?

My greatest fear is my children being harmed in any way. The only way to deal with this is by equipping them with the values and judgement to be able to protect themselves from harm but also doing harm themselves by respecting the environment and others like they would like others to respect them. They say, a parent’s job is done when their children don’t need them anymore. We have a long way to go still but I think and hope we are on the right track.

12. What do you think about your company's social impact?

I believe our reason of existence, vision and goals already have a positive social impact. But we strive to reflect our values and practice what we preach and that is why we are already planning our first CSR action which is the organization of the 1st ever NGO Congress where we will offer free training to NGO’s in Cyprus on various subjects of their interest such as governance issues, financial management, communication and fundraising, advocacy and activism, managing human resources such as volunteers, data management and CRM and so many other interesting subjects that will equip NGO’s with the necessary tools to be able to reach their goals more professionally and effectively. This will take place in September and we very much look forward to it!

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As a CSR entrepreneur what does added value mean to you?

Sustainability is all about shared value. It is based on the principle of adding value both to the company but also society and the local community where it operates.