How we use sustainability as a winning strategy

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By Tone Laila Solstad, December 01, 2017

We have incorporated UNs sustainability goals as a central part of our strategy. Read this interview with Anne Ågård Syversen, Head of Sales for Asia Pacific and Cilia Holmes Indahl, Sustainability Director, on how the organization has been able to do this and how we work to have the entire industry do the same.


Early movers on sustainability

It dates back to when we started fishing in Antarctica, which is a very pristine environment. It was obvious to us that we had to do this properly from day one, which meant that our products needed complete traceability all the way down to exact coordinates for each individual catch, says Indahl.


When we were awarded our first certification back in 2010, few customers were demanding such certifications yet. Now, it is almost a prerequisite to win consumers’ trust in many European and American markets, and the interest is on the rise in China also, says Syversen.




Sustainability director, aker Biomarine


Read more: Antarctic krill: A sustainable protein source for shrimp and fish feed


Involvement of all employees on the path to sustainability

When the UN launched the sustainability goals in the fall of 2015, our management needed no convincing that this was an initiative to support.


We ran a process where the executive suite did a joint session to examine each of the 17 goals in detail, to find which held most relevance to our core business.


We conducted a strategy meeting where all employees were presented with each of the goals, before voting which of them they felt Aker BioMarine could contribute towards in a meaningful fashion. It was uplifting to see both the executives and the employees – independently of one another – land on the exact same goals, says Indahl.


2, 3, 12 and 14 – numbers from a lottery ticket?

2, 3, 12 and 14. This may sound like numbers from a winning lottery ticket, but even though it has been profitable enough, there is nothing random behind this selection. It just so happens that these are the four of United Nations’ 17 Sustainability Goals emphasized and integrated in our business model.


Our decision was the following goals: “2 Zero hunger”, “3 Good health and well-being”, “12 Responsible consumption and production” and “14 Life below water”, says Indahl.


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Creating a sustainability squad

With an ambition of “Improving human and planetary health” and knowing which sustainability goals to work towards, the work began to integrate sustainability into the business model – that is, how to bring the goals to bear not only on business decisions, but also on society at large.


One ambassador from each department was appointed to be in charge of addressing that department’s sustainability issues. These ambassadors all form part of an interdepartmental team that helps shape the way in which our company works with sustainability. We also keep these ambassadors up-to-date on how sustainability can support sales and core functions, as well as how we can maintain the competitive advantages sustainability gives us in the marketplace, says Indahl.


Read more: Harvesting krill for QRILL Aqua


Our goal is that every one of our employees should be able to articulate not only our value chain and the emphasis we place on being accountable for that, but also how this ties in with what we do in the market and how this all benefits our clients. We produce a lot of content to make our clients see how we regard sustainability in our fisheries and all our other conduct, and they in turn bring this to their customers. In that manner, we not only show how Aker BioMarine does business, but also why, she says.

Partnering to build engagement in the sea farming industry

We have worked extensively with Seafood Norway and the Marine Stewardship Council to build engagement for sustainability across the sea farming industry. They have also taken a lead to establish an industry organization where krill fishers can convene and decide guidelines. The underlying idea is that we feel well equipped to handle competition from actors who run a serious business, but that both the industry and the planet as a whole will lose if there is room for unethical behavior.


Customer partnering on sustainability

We work according to a partnership model in which we turn customers into partners over time, says Syversen. Given our advanced standing within sustainability, and the competitive advantages this has given us, our customers very much feel we are in this together. This gives them added value beyond the fact that we sell them raw materials for their production, she adds.


In Asia, the idea of sustainability may not yet have the same position as in Europe and the Americas, but clients nevertheless appreciate our documentation, research and ability to add value to a product that would otherwise be a commodity. Much of my job is to make my clients understand how they can use this material on their own customers. For those that export to Europe and some other western markets this is fairly straight forward, but among companies that do most of their business in their home markets, this understanding is not that mature – yet. Our idea is nevertheless to remain as far ahead of the curve as we can. Our most important job is to be present as a robust partner that has everything in order, and those of our customers who wish to evolve in that direction, will understand our role and choose us, says Syversen.


Relevance for all companies

At the core of all these assessments, lies Aker BioMarine’s attitude of sustainability not as a goal to be hurriedly attained in order to rest on one’s laurels, but as a procedure of continuously challenging all processes to be environmentally sound.


So, is sustainability goals of relevance for all companies? Indahl, says she have yet to meet a single company that can find no connection between their business and the sustainability goals. These goals are so ambitious and large that anybody should be able to find motivation and room to adjust their business model towards more sustainability. It is all about starting somewhere to build a foundation for the future, and the sustainability goals are an excellent starting point for such a journey, says Indahl.


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