Richard Branson Sends In Team B

Richard Branson Sends In Team B

By Sangeeta Haindl

By Sangeeta Haindl and Caitlin Klask.
Photo by David Shankbone.

For many corporations, sustainability is a priority that is often overshadowed by crises and other more “urgent” concerns. Richard Branson wants to change that.

In June, Sir Richard Branson and Jochen Zeitz, Director of Kering launched Team B, a global not-for-profit collaboration to encourage the business sector to look beyond short term profit. Team B is a constellation of corporate heavyweights that includes:

  • Arianna Huffington
  • Unilever’s Paul Polman
  • Ratan Tata of the Tata Group
  • President of the United Nations Foundation Kathy Calvin
  • Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Norwegian Prime Minister
  • and former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson

Together they are championing “a new way of doing business that prioritizes people and planet alongside profit.”

Sustainability: Companies Are To Blame

Team B believes business, although vital to society, created most of the negative environmental challenges of this century. They’ve issued a declaration that places the blame for the world’s problems directly on the doorstep of companies.

Team B doesn’t want to attack corporations. But they believe that if corporations continue using the natural resources of the world, someday these resources will run out.

Their declaration adds that there is no alternative but for business leaders to develop a new approach, which might mean a new form of capitalism. Businesses must investigate how to promote less of a short-term view and more of an inclusive approach to corporate leadership, tackling specific issues, such as quarterly reporting or subsidies for fossil fuels, and large-scale global problems, such as unemployment and inequality.

The Solution: Creating A Pact

Branson hopes this team will succeed where others have failed by harnessing the energy of a small group of 14 respected leaders who have access to heads of state and other key opinion-formers. Sustainability will no longer be priority that is overshadowed by each company’s own personal concerns.

The business leaders who have joined the Team have committed to practice what they preach in their own businesses, and for that, they’ll no doubt come under the spotlight. This spotlight raises the stakes on these companies and creates a new level of accountability.

In fact, many of Branson’s Virgin brands until now have failed to integrate sustainability into the heart of their organizations. Before the launch of the Team B, Virgin spent months developing a new sustainability vision and strategy, which it hopes will focus senior management’s attention on their social and environmental impacts.

Can It Work?

Some critics of Team B wonder, when Branson and others were building their businesses, did they tell potential investors that they would be trying to help people and the planet while turning a profit? But these highly successful business and government leaders are comfortable at this stage in their careers, so it only makes sense that they’re doing it for the cause.

The U.S., Western Europe and other wealthy nations have taken the same attitude toward the developing world. Even though their own industrialization efforts took little regard for people or the planet, they now insist that countries like China and India grow in a cleaner, greener way.

Either way, this international collective is an important step forward to catalyze initiatives and advance engagement with serious issues. It’s a push for the corporate sustainability movement to enter a new, dynamic phase and be a new “force for good.”

Could creating a pact that reaches outside your company help prioritize sustainability initiatives in your company? Do you think Team B will work? Is it a useful force for good? Leave a comment below!

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