Shifting sustainability focus from output to outcomes: Three examples from practice

A​t​ NewForesight​,​ we have been working strategically with sustainability frontrunners in many different sectors for almost a decade. We see sustainability thinking moving to new stages, we increasingly support our clients​ with the shift from ​output-focused approaches​​​​ to outcome-focused approaches (one of the three key trends that shape sustainability thinking, discussed in the blog post of our consultant Guus ter Haar), something that is supported strongly by our unique approach to market transformation.

The questions that rise mostly out of these recent developments are:

  • How ​can such a framework be implement​ed​ effectively?
  • W​hat does it mean to put outcome-focused efforts in practice both ​at ​the strategic and operational levels?

Below we share some of the highlights of our experience to answer these questions with our clients.

  1. Taking global priorities to local relevance with one of our corporate clients

For industry players, investments are now more than ever expected to bring returns in tangible, structural impact. Working towards their sustainability and risk management goals, certification and farmer training initiatives are no longer seen as enough and companies are restructuring their sustainability approaches beyond certification.

One of our corporate clients, a front runner in coffee sustainability, has taken the first steps in establishing an approach for advancing the development of sustainable coffee producing regions. Through alignment with global and national platforms, they are effectively translating global goals to local priorities. This approach, which we have designed with them, is the first of its kind in coffee, and focuses on co-creation with local stakeholders, working to strengthen local capacity and initiatives to create lasting impact.

  1. Working towards outcome-based standards together with ISEAL

Standards are recognized globally for catalyzing improvements and operationalizing sustainability, but are also pressured to rapidly adapt their systems in order to improve sustainability performance, become more efficient and deliver more value for users throughout the supply chain.

The ISEAL Alliance, the global association for sustainability standards systems, works to strengthen sustainability standards’ systems for the benefit of people and the environment. Now that a significant number of standard-setting organizations are undergoing a standard revision, many are exploring ways to design their standards to better achieve the sustainability outcomes of their system.

To support ISEAL in providing guidance to their members in this process, NewForesight delivers the insights into the system-level implications and key considerations for ‘outcome-based’ standards, both at the design as the operational level. Later this year ISEAL and NewForesight will publish a report for ISEAL members on those implications.

  1. Development of an outcome-focused international KPI framework for The International Cocoa Organization

Platforms are more and more expected to go beyond facilitation, driving real progress and delivering results. The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) is a global organization, composed of both cocoa producing and cocoa consuming member countries and has set up of The Global Cocoa Agenda (GCA) in 2012. The GCA functions as a roadmap for the global cocoa economy and it is the most comprehensive definition of ‘shared responsibility’ for sustainable cocoa production globally to date. The GCA outlines roles, responsibilities and actions for all major stakeholder groups involved in a sustainable cocoa sector and sets a systematic and strategic approach to promote the production, trade, processing and consumption of sustainable cocoa.

In order to properly monitor the GCA, NewForesight supports the Consultative Board of ICCO in the development of a comprehensive KPI-framework, measuring outcomes and impact at an international scale.

Want to know if an outcome-focused approach fits within your organization, and would you like to know how? Contact our inspirational strategist and senior consultant Joost Gorter, for a consultation on the topic.

Beyond agriculture: sequel to ‘Changing the Food Game’ takes wide scope

Did you know that it has already been three years since​ NewForesight CEO Lucas Simons’ book​  ‘Changing the Food Game’ was published? The book that offers a game-changing solution to transform markets towards sustainability has been read by thousands, has been highly recommended by various industry leaders, and was even incorporated into the curricula of university business programs. André Nijhoff, Professor of Sustainable Business & Stewardship and coordinator of the MBA programs at Nyenrode Business University, regularly invites Lucas as a guest lecturer to discuss ‘Changing the Food Game’ with his students.

The lectures Lucas organizes within Nyenrode are accelerating the debate on systemic transformation towards sustainability. Finding the tipping points for sustainable change becomes a discussion with top managers from many different sectors beyond agriculture. According to André Nijhoff, “Both students and managers are always inspired by the vision of Lucas on sustainable market transformation, because he is able to make complex issues comprehensible. After his classes, they often use his models in their assignments and last year alone, seven participants wrote their thesis about market transformation and transition.”

At three different programs of Nyenrode, Lucas gives multiple lectures each year, and during these sessions it became inevitably clear: the market transformation strategies of ‘Changing the Food Game’ create significant value when they are applied to the sustainability issues of non-agricultural sectors as well. André commented:

“We discovered that Lucas’ models are also interesting and applicable for managers who are working in, for example, the financial or public sector. This is because Lucas’ approach goes beyond the scope of one company or organization alone. Lucas doesn’t start with the sustainable issues within an organization, but motivates others to think about how to change the system by telling a unique personal story that motivates everyone in the audience. This helicopter view gives organizations many insights into the problems they need to solve, and how they can work in collaboration with others. These insights show the same patterns for different sectors and organizations and are widely recognizable beyond food and agriculture.”

Speaking on sustainable transformation with many experts in a wide range of sectors at Nyenrode and beyond has inspired the development of a sequel to ‘Changing the Food Game’. This next edition will include cases on sectors beyond agriculture and André will support the set-up of the new edition together with NBU graduate students. Sectors included are, for instance, the financial, energy and seafood sectors. André says he is “looking forward to the outcomes of the different cases and the patterns and phases of change they will show.”

The book will mark a new phase in the debate on market transformation, leveraging a wealth of information that supports sustainable change. At NewForesight, we will keep you updated upon its arrival, but you can also keep an eye on the website of Changing the Food Game:

NewForesight invited at FMO for keynote talk on using finance for tackling complex sustainability challenges

Finance plays a huge role in the growth and development of smallholder agricultural sectors, and it is estimated that smallholder farmers around the globe represent a demand of $450 billion in agricultural finance. Regrettably, only a small fraction of around $10 billion of this demand is currently satisfied. This represents both a tremendous challenge to the development and professionalization of these farmers, as well as an opportunity for structural and positive change—if we are able to successfully unlock supply of and access to this remaining $440 billion.

Therefore, we were thrilled to be invited by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) to address a group of agricultural professionals from Colombia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Nigeria, South Africa, Vietnam and Kazakhstan to give a keynote talk on how finance can play a part in addressing the challenges that come with tackling complex sustainability challenges in agriculture. Hosted by the FMO, Netherlands Development Finance Company, the talk given by Hilde van Duijn (Consultant) and Niko Wojtynia (Analyst) sparked a lively discussion between the foreign visitors, FMO staff, representatives of the Dutch government as well as organizations like IDH (the Sustainable Trade Initiative), and the presenters.

The presentation focused on the global challenges of agriculture and the importance of farmer organizations and cooperatives when working with smallholder farmers who are not conventionally considered ‘bankable’. Hilde incorporated examples of her experience in organic cotton, where payment of price differentials (or ‘premiums’) often do not reach the farmer, and showed how ‘factoring finance’ can offer an inclusive solution throughout the supply chain and at farm level. Niko demonstrated how securing access to finance has been found to be a key driver of successful Service Delivery Models (supply chain structures that provide services to farmers to increase their performance and profitability, see the image below); the result of 30 real-world case studies performed by NewForesight for partner IDH, comparing such services across the globe

Hilde and Niko left the meeting both inspired and humbled: inspired by the visitors’ enthusiasm to drive change in their respective sectors, and humbled by their direct experience with many of the issues broached in the talk. We look forward to continuing this conversation with all frontrunner organizations that see the opportunities for positive impact contained in tacking this challenge.

Image: The FMO building (by FMO)

Image: Finance within Service Delivery Models (from FMO presentation)

Combining Ambition and Realism: 4 steps for business to leverage the SDGs and maximize their impact

By Jennifer Morton, Analyst at NewForesight

Companies today are looked to more than ever to drive the sustainability agenda, at a time when such challenges are increasing in complexity and scale. This leaves organizations which seek to lead in sustainability facing the balancing act of having to set ambitious goals while being mindful of the reputational risks that can make or break their business. Yet, solving tough sustainability challenges is not up to one company alone. Meeting the SDGs requires different sector stakeholders joining forces and aligning their resources and efforts to drive lasting impact together.

The UN Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have emerged as an essential tool for creating a common frame of reference for global sustainability efforts. Using the SDGs, different actors can set targets and track their progress and impact according to an internationally recognized sustainability framework, using collaboration and shared learning to create lasting change.

In this context, how can individual companies play their part in the collective efforts that are needed to achieve the global goals? Our experience working with clients across diverse sectors has shown us that following these 4 steps can help companies derive the most value from the SDGs–for the wider good and for their business:

  1. Aligning with the SDGs in focal areas of sustainability
  2. Translating SDG-aligned goals into quantifiable targets
  3. Implementing robust credibility frameworks to communicate real impact
  4. Collaborating to go further, together
  1. Align with the SDGs in focal areas of sustainability

The SDG framework is one of the most powerful tools companies have to ensure their sustainability efforts are aligned with, and understood as part of, a broader improvement agenda. Yet, the SDGs are often considered too high-level or generic for companies to engage with, and no company alone can solve all the global goals.

To uncover the value of the SDGs, companies should focus on select elements at the core of their sustainable business activities, and map (or even quantify) how these translate into progress towards specific SDG targets. Ensuring such linkages are communicated in the common language the SDGs provide is important for ensuring companies can more directly attribute any progress achieved to the result of their activities.

  1. Translate your SDG-aligned goals into quantifiable targets

To turn this mapping exercise into actionable progress towards the SDGs, the next step requires setting company-level goals. To be effective, such goals must be S.M.A.R.T—specific, achievable, realistic, timely—and, crucially, measurable. In a study by Bain & Company, setting quantifiable targets was found to be the most critical factor behind successful flagship corporate sustainability programs. Alongside galvanizing a sense of shared mission and ambition internally within the organization, quantifiable targets were found to instill a culture of transparency between these companies and their stakeholders. This helped to enhance the value of these firms’ sustainability impact, whilst an attitude of openness, learning, and improvement helped mitigate any reputational risks.

The challenge comes in ensuring any quantifiable targets set by companies are both relatable to the SDGs, as well as realistic for your company. This raises a number of crucial questions, such as:

  • On what topic does your company possess the capacity, know-how and resources to make a credible contribution to the SDGs?
  • What are realistic SDG-linked targets for your company given the wider enabling environment you operate in?
  • How can you secure internal alignment for these SDG-aligned goals and targets, as well as widespread external legitimacy and support for your efforts?

As many companies today operate in complex supply chains across many countries worldwide, it can be extremely complex to find answers to these questions. A standardized method for mapping, evaluating, and monitoring sustainability interventions in a supply chain, such as the Service Delivery Models (SDM) approach, can help companies assess the wider sustainability contexts they operate in, and gain concrete data and insights about the impact of their current sustainability efforts. By using this model, which we have developed in partnership with IDH, businesses are better able to articulate areas where they can credibly contribute to the SDGs, and focus their resources in areas where they can actually have tangible and structural positive impact. In doing so, companies have the tools they need to decide on realistic targets when setting S.M.A.R.T goals.

  1. Implement robust credibility frameworks to communicate real impact

Crucially, using the SDGs in a way that generates value and impact requires having the ability to make credible claims on impact. For this, credibility mechanisms are key. One powerful mechanism for driving this credibility is a ‘Progress Framework’ which is crucial for helping companies monitor sustainability progress, ensure credible data gathering, and provide concrete and verifiable data to communicate impact to stakeholders.

However, tracking progress without a solid Theory of Change (‘how do your activities lead to your vision of a better world?’) can lead to companies ‘disconnecting’ themselves in the process of communicating their impact. The way M&E data is communicated often has an unspecified or unclear connection to the wider landscape of sustainability. Such misalignment risks a company’s sustainability efforts not having the desired effect of engaging stakeholders and society in their initiatives, and blocks collaboration on sector-wide or global sustainability challenges.

The SDGs offer the ‘golden ticket’ for avoiding this common trap. Based on our experience designing Progress Frameworks for our clients, credibility mechanisms are most effective when SDG alignment is part of their design—starting with the initial indicator selection process, all the way to progress reporting tailored to the SDGs and their specific language. Such an approach ensures that companies can generate relatable and understandable results to ensure their sustainability efforts are part of a larger story, and that their impact is recognized accordingly.

  1. Go far, together

Acting alone, companies can move fast in addressing sustainability issues, especially those that are limited to their own supply chain. However, the old adage rings true, that going further requires going together. The final SDG17–’partnering for the goals’–recognizes that cross-sector partnerships are critical for tackling the root causes of tough sustainability challenges, which often require the involvement of stakeholders such as local industry and government. Such partnerships should thus not be seen as separate goals, but integral in the approach to tackling any of the SDGs.

From organizing governance in sectors from cocoa, to coffee, to cotton, we have experienced first-hand the importance of creating the right incentives for stakeholders to collaborate. On a multi-stakeholder level, SDG-aligned target setting and progress reporting is vital, and this involves sector-wide goals, targets and Progress Frameworks. The CocoaAction Roadmap which we worked on with the World Cocoa Foundation, one of our long-term partners, is an example of these crucial components put into practice.

For a sector-level initiative to make sense for individual businesses, companies have to see the value in being part of a multi-stakeholder sustainability solution. In implementing transformational sustainability programs, companies are often in unchartered waters. Yet, by working together and setting long-term commitments, the weight of such a significant undertaking no longer falls on one company’s shoulders. Instead, there is an alliance of companies who are in it together for the long run, working towards a common goal with a shared, actionable strategy and a framework for progress tracking. Only then are risks and responsibilities shared and distributed between the collaborators, and the impact of their individual efforts are increased through synergy. That way, they really stand stronger together.

Want to know more on taking steps to make the SDGs work for your company?

At NewForesight, we understand the pressures and opportunities that companies in the public limelight are facing. Contact us to find out how we can help you take the steps you need to leverage the SDGs and turn your sustainability challenges into shared opportunities.

New additions to the NewForesight team

At NewForesight, creating lasting impact is an important company value, but it is the people behind the company that drive the change. We are therefore happy to have added a talented combination of people to the team in the past months. Each of them has their own unique talent, and together they bring a broad range of perspectives to the team. Head to their bio’s to get know them.






We moved to a new office: visit us at the Arthur van Schendelstraat

We moved to a new and bigger office in an area full of other like-minded organizations working for positive impact! Since the 1st of July our address is:

Arthur van Schendelstraat 750-760
3511 Utrecht

To ​celebrate our company’s growth and our move to ​a new office​,​ we will host our grand opening on the 29th of September, where we will reflect on ​what we have achieved with our clients in different sectors​, discuss trends in the sustainability landscape, and look at the road that lies ahead. The event will be organized together with our sister companies SCOPEinsight and ThrivingCoalitions and​ will​ consist of different themes, speakers and workshops. More information on the program will follow soon​. We look forward to officially opening the office with our close network of sustainability frontrunners!

Looking for a sustainably furnished workplace incl. meeting rooms, kitchen and lunch? And would you like to share an office with three dynamic and young companies dedicated to generate positive impact? Within our office there are workplaces available for smaller companies and freelancers. Contact Tessa or look at the brochure to learn more.

NRC Live: Towards a ‘Made in Holland’ to be proud of

Dutch agriculture is dominated by low quality production and still​ ​one third of food in supply chains is​ wasted. On June 1st, Lucas opened the NRC live Agrifood & Tech conference with a keynote presentation on tackling these challenges and transforming the Dutch agricultural sector. By setting a sector​-​wide shared vision, an actionable plan and ​implementing vehicle​,​ the agricultural sector of the Netherlands can be transformed towards a system ​that rewards high quality food production, ​minimizes food waste and reduces the negative impact on the environment with f.e. regenerative farming methods.

​In total​, ​​150 representatives of the government, private sector, research institutions and non-profits ​came together on this first edition of the Agri Tech conference to talk​ about​ the transition of Dutch agriculture​. ​As Dutch consumers are currently interested more than ever ​in where their food comes from, the time is ​​now to turn the tides to​wards​ a ‘Made in Holland’ we can be proud of.

You can download the presentation here.

The presentation in Tweets

Two NewForesight consultants selected as Young Sustainability Leaders of 2017

16 June 2017

We are proud to announce that two of our NewForesight consultants Bart Vollaard and Guus ter Haar have been recognized in the top 100 list of sustainable leaders in the Netherlands (Duurzame Jonge 100 2017). This achievement reflects the long-standing commitment of both to a more sustainable world and their tireless commitment to two groundbreaking sustainability projects: Bart for his work as program director at the Organic Cotton Accelerator and Guus for initiating the Green Protein Alliance (GPA) which was established last year.

Bart on his work for OCA: “The challenges the organic cotton sector is facing can’t be solved by one company alone. That is why OCA unites brands like H&M, C&A and Inditex to work together towards a prosperous sector with more impact. As program director, I fulfill a steering role. I have been responsible for setting up OCA’s intervention programs, such as organic cotton sourcing pilots within the supply chains of OCA partner brands in India. I am now coordinating the implementation of the sourcing pilots and other interventions, with plans to scale OCA’s impact in future beyond India to other countries”.

Guus on his work at NewForesight:  “As a consultant at NewForesight, I carry the title Positive Impact Provocateur as a joke, but this is actually something that is of great importance to me. For every project I work in at NewForesight, I am dedicated to bringing about a positive, structural impact for a more sustainable world. If we are doing something, we should do it right”. The Green Protein Growth Plan is an example of Guus putting this into practice: the practical action plan set up in 2017 and supported by industry, academia and government, has ushered in the Netherlands’ far-reaching commitment to a more plant-based food system by 2025.

At NewForesight, creating lasting impact is an important company value, but it is the people behind the company that drive the change. To gain recognition for their hard work makes what we do all the more worthwhile.

About last month: Meeting 24 Young Agents of Change at NewForesight

One of our values as a company is: We own it and grow it. Investing in professional and personal growth, as individuals and as a team, is central to our work every single day. Combining this with our drive to have positive impact, we wanted to invest in the next generation of change makers; the many recent graduates and young professionals that get equally excited about tackling sustainability challenges. Between some cutting edge thinking in projects set to transform, among others, seafood and organic cotton, we hosted our first Young Agents of Change event on the 6th of April.

Almost every week at different Universities, NewForesight consultants give guest lectures on market transformation and how to apply this in practice and they often receive much enthusiasm. For the Young Agents of Change event, we therefore invited 24 handpicked future change agents and invited them to a full day crash course of NewForesight’s theory and practice. The day started off with a presentation of Lucas Simons on Market Transformation and the power young people can have. This was followed by some personal experiences shared by our Junior Analysts (the current Young Agents of Change) and a presentation about best practices and lessons learnt by our organic cotton expert Bart Vollaard.

In the second part of the day, it was up to the future YoAC’s themselves to work on some tough sustainability challenges. Divided into groups everyone got to choose their own cocoa cases, and could strategically select limited information from literature, data-sets or scheduled interviews. The outcome of their work was presented to the ‘potential’ clients and stakeholders, such as for example the fictitious ‘Willy Wonka Chocolate Company’.

We are proud of investing in a new generation of change agents through this event, mostly owing to the positive feedback from participants:

“If you are thinking about a career in which you can have an impact, but are not sure how, go to the Young Agents of Change Day! You can learn what the NewForesight team does, how they make a difference in their jobs and that the right mind-set is the way to get there.” – April (24)

Another participant, Lennard (26) noted that during the day, he; “got an insight into the work of a progressive consultancy that drives positive change. This experience strengthened my motivation to contribute to positive change.”

Even though being able to offer talented young people a position in our team is an important outcome, this was not the true aim of the day: wherever these young professionals will work, we hope they will keep up their motivation and efforts in tackling tough sustainability challenges and turning them into opportunities, just as we strive to do every day.

Excited about joining an event like this? Keep an eye on our website or leave your contact information here, as there is more to come.

New Horizons Webinar: call to action for frontrunners to help accelerate the transition of our food system

Update 1 July 2017: following the positive reception of the webinar and questions from those who could not attend, we herewith share the recording of the webinar with you.

Following our New Horizons Report, which we co-authored with Commonland and presented to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, NewForesight is now focused on the next steps. For us, this means connecting frontrunners who are interested in putting insights​ about how to solve the challenges​ of our failing food system into practice​,​ while creating opportunities for systemic change.

To this end, on June 14th, 12:30 pm – 14:30 pm, we will be hosting a New Horizons Webinar. We intend this to act​ as a call to action for organizations that appreciate the urgency and recognize the far-reaching opportunities in fixing our food system.

During the webinar:

– Wouter-Jan Schouten (Lead author Horizons report and Senior Advisor at NewForesight) will present the challenges and opportunities that the New Horizons report puts forward

– Michiel de Man (Co-author Horizons report and Director Strategy & Business Development at Commonland) will offer examples of applying these insights using a landscape restoration approach

– Lucas Simons (Founder/CEO of NewForesight and author of Changing The Food Game) will present multiple examples of turning this new thinking into strategies that turn complex challenges into shared opportunities in different value chains and consumer end-markets.

We invite all sustainability frontrunners to sign up for this webinar and join us in a discussion on the next steps towards a more sustainable world.