Does Heathrow give sustainability a bad name

Author: Robert MacMillan
Underside of airplane at takeoff with city buildings in background

Blog Post

Achieving long term goal of sustainability can be profitable

Profitability and sustainability are not mutually exclusive goals for HH Global’s clients. When the announcement of the London Heathrow Airport’s new sustainability strategy spearheaded discourse, Group CEO Robert MacMillan took a balanced position. MacMillan shares his experience on how by leveraging innovation and sustainability, HH Global keeps the world’s largest brands meeting the green benchmark on all balance sheets.

Last week, Heathrow announced the launch of an ambitious sustainability “super-strategy.” Heathrow has branded the strategy Heathrow 2.0 and presents more than 200 ambitious targets to address a range of social, environmental, and economic issues.

Naturally, some have dismissed this as “greenwash”. Let me tell you why I disagree. And why I am frustrated when, time and again, the debate goes straight to whether a business can truly be both sustainable and profitable –- a question that received a lot of attention after the collapse of the Kraft-Unilever deal, but a question that’s built on a false premise. It’s never either-or.

Heathrow’s leaders understand that a sustainable approach is not a “nice-to-have”, it’s essential to long-term business planning. It’s estimated that the third runway will add an extra 260,000 flights a year once it’s completed, making it the U.K.’s largest source of carbon emissions. We can assume meeting the targets (agreed with a range of environmental and community groups) will be a very costly exercise, one which is sure to spark a few difficult conversations in the boardroom. But finding ways to make Heathrow more sustainable will lead to new innovations that will drive down costs –- and if Heathrow gets this right, why shouldn’t it export its approach right across the world? Sustainability and innovation are inseparable – that’s why we have one board member in charge of both at HH Global.

I work closely with some of the world’s biggest businesses and discuss sustainability with all kinds of company leaders. They recognise sustainability can have positive network effects, even if it starts in one business unit. Take the marketing department of a company for example, a division which helps to ensure the brand of a company is consistent across its operations. A pretty important consideration if you have even the slightest understanding of brand equity.

All marketing function activities from creative production to printing and packaging require a lot of collaboration and coordination. That’s exactly what we do at HH Global – we partner with companies across the world to help drive down costs in marketing services in an efficient and sustainable manner. Companies save money, time, and hassle, and they also know that if they are asked: “Is every link in your supply chain sustainable?”, they don’t have to say “I’ll get back to you”.

For example, we’ve partnered with HSBC over the last four years to help them meet their sustainability goals. They were particularly focused on making their marketing function more sustainable, driving efficiency across their marketing supply chain and cutting costs. The best part of this: we reduced their global print volumes by three to five percent,  which is the equivalent of millions of gallons of water and thousands of trees. And we saved them lots of money too. And this doesn’t just help one department. It’s a benchmark, it pulls other departments up, too.

We work closely with our partners to include sustainability in their long-term strategy because it cannot be tackled as a short-term ambition. I believe the successful companies of the future will be those with sustainability at their foundation such as Heathrow 2.0. We’ll see cynicism for a while, but cynicism falls in the face of proof. I expect Heathrow, and others, to prove the naysayers wrong. Building business sustainably is more important than ever.