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I had the privilege to spent 3 days deep in the beautiful woodlands of Cotswold, UK with executives from HSBC, HP and Earthwatch Institute to discuss the consequences of climate change and other environmental issues. It was part of a new pilot of the established HSBC’s Sustainability Leadership Program that included for the first time selected partners. (here: SAP and HP)

The goal was to strengthen the partner relationship by sharing common concerns but also to come up with a joint action plan. HP and SAP were selected because of  each companies sustainability leadership in its respective industry. We brought our business  worlds together in very intense day of creative thinking from which a series of initiatives were identified and kicked off.  These included some very transformational and long term ideas, all of which have mutual benefit for the organisations but crucially have the potential to materially impact the future of the planet.

I can honestly say that this program is the most powerful approach I have seen and experienced so far to embed sustainability into a company’s strategy and direction. The hands-on experience mixed with in-depth discussions facilitated by an NGO can be very valuable and transformative……and apparently is as you can see in the selected (anonymized) quotes at the end of this blog.

Read on if you are interested in more info about HSBC’s leadership program…..

HSBC’s Sustainability Leadership Program is a unique professional development experience for senior leaders, designed to promote understanding of sustainability as a core business issue and opportunity. To succeed, it has to be supported from the top. Program participants work with Earthwatch scientists on a climate change-related research project and take part in structured sustainability learning sessions relevant to HSBC co-delivered by Earthwatch and HSBC.

These 4-day programs, co-designed and delivered by Earthwatch and HSBC, have been running since 2009 at eight Earthwatch research sites in Brazil, China, Costa Rica, India, Malaysian Borneo, Mexico, the  U.K., and the U.S. Collecting caterpillars together with HSBC executives and Earthwatch scientists to change employee engagement ? You bet.

HSBC folks participating all had consistent feedback – it is a life-changing transformative experience:

‘Possibly the most valuable program I have ever been on in my 36 years in HSBC. The key was understanding the link between managing our natural resource and our goal of sustainable cost saves. A real win-win!’ (HSBC employee)

‘Having attended the Sustainability leadership program in mid-2013, I can honestly say it was one of the most productive training courses I have attended in my career (covering banking and government service). Not only was I able to learn more about climate change - about which I had been previously sceptical - but also understand why HSBC should seek to build a sustainable business model ‘ (HSBC employee)

Truly eye opening. It helped me appreciate HSBC's major contribution to sustainability. Even more importantly it made me understand for the first time the role I could play in supporting HSBC's ambitious sustainability target’ (HSBC employee)

‘This is a great program..... a unique, experiential learning program that will show you how even the most complex/difficult issues (environment) can be solved if we all set our heart and minds to it in a collaborative manner ......go on, experience it.......don't just take my word for it!’ (HSBC employee)

With the scale of HSBC’s operations, the reach of its customers, and the influence it holds over its investments, the program has potential to make significant global changes. Until today, HSBC had around 400 senior executives participating in the program delivering more than 8000 hours to Earthwatch research.

For us from SAP, it was a unique opportunity to see how NGOs and corporates can work together to deliver real impact. Field-based science and sustainability learning is a powerful combination that changes perspectives, allows hands-on experience and ultimately transforms behavior. Every company should take a good look and think about installing an equivalent program.

Picture: SAP employees Helen Sutton, Derek Haw, Lee Edwards and myself with HP and HSBC executives tracking Cotswold blue tits birds.

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