Knowledge Into Action Forum 22nd May in Four Acres, Unilever, London

On 22nd May, the 2019 Knowledge Into Action Forum (KIAF) brought together the ABIS network and relevant stakeholders to discuss and collaborate on how to drive innovation by putting sustainability at the core of business and research practices. The KIAF offered a platform to present innovative ideas and initiatives, as well as the opportunity to create new partnerships with existing research and innovation projects.

The KIAF took place at the Unilever International Management Training Centre Four Acres nearby London, where we had the opportunity to connect with the best global sustainability and innovation experts from academic and business world.

Here are some ways how you can re-live the highlights of our KIAF (or catch what you missed):

  1. Read this report where we recapitulate the event.
  2. Find yourself in photos that we uploaded right here or on our website.
  3. Watch our official aftermovie that will be released soon.
  4. Watch our Talking Head interviews which will be posted regularly on our social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube).
  5. Stay tuned for our follow-up activities and check our latest projects and initiatives on our website (for example our Scenario Exploration System Workshop).
  6. Re-watch our webinars and other videos from our events on our Youtube channel.
  7. Post pictures or videos with the hashtag #KIAF19 and don’t forget to tag us @abisglobal.

We are already looking forward to seeing you at our next event 18th ABIS annual Colloquium, happening on 29. - 30. October 2019 at ESMT Berlin.

Keynote: How do we drive sustainable innovation?

Niall Dunne, CEO, Polymateria

The main message of our keynote speech was that success of purpose driven and meaningful startups highly contributing to a better world comes from leading the business in a strong, inspiring and serving way as well as pulling together many unlikely stakeholders in a disruptive manner.

On plastics pollution, which is truly a global emergency, it is difficult to make things happen from a business as usual perspective, you have to do things in a disruptive way. In the case of Polymateria, collaboration with academia is incredibly important in validating the claims that the company is making. Working within the value chain, but also beyond the value chain, with NGOs, standard bodies etc., is crucial for accelerating impact.

Polymateria is a great example that economy, society and ecology can be managed together. Apart from the deep tech solution to plastic pollution, the innovation is also in breaking through the assumed dilemmas and silos between economy, society and ecology by focusing on building a high degree of collaboration, a disruptive approach to market and authentic leadership.

Panel: How to make sustainable innovation happen?

In the panel high level voices from business and academia that were responsible for sustainable innovation in their businesses engaged in discussions about challenges on how to change and innovate in systems where the traditional mainstream of the core business is very strong. The speakers came to a conclusion that there is a need for people with an extremely high personal commitment and well developed skills in negotiations and change management. Nowadays, true sustainable innovation lies in longer term investments and projects.

It is important to recognize that to accelerate progress in sustainable development, no single organization can do that alone. Partnering up with other stakeholders, academia and startups in particular, is essential as this is where a lot of creativity, solutions and technologies are emerging.

A very special thank you goes to our speakers:

  • Ailbhe Timmons, Manager Employee Engagement EMEA, Johnson & Johnson
  • Jacqueline Hochreiter, Sustainability Lead, AB InBeV Europe
  • Jonatan Pinske, Executive Director, Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, University of Manchester
  • Clive Allison, Global Director, Innovation & New Business Models, Unilever

Innovation Forum

Next our program featured an Innovation Forum consisting of a pitching session that gave the opportunity to six speakers to give a teaser of the challenge or dilemma that they wanted to discuss and work on during the afternoon breakout sessions.

The following pages will summarize each breakout session.


Within the TRANSFORM project, Unilever, in partnership with the UK’s Department for International Development, is supporting the development of market-based solutions and testing innovative business models that meet low income household needs in developing countries. Their mission is to help people gain improved access to and consistently consume safe water. The complex challenge presented by Chris Loxley, Project Leader Global R&D at Unilever focused on community water solutions (water kiosks) and how to build consistent use of safe water in order to prevent diseases and illnesses from drinking unsafe water improve commercial viability of kiosks reducing CAPEX/OPEX.

There are in fact already organizations and charities working in the field (e.g. Drinkwell, providing water ATMs solutions), however they rely heavily on donor funding (big charities, UNICEF, WHO) and incur in challenges to pay back the investments in capital and operating costs. In terms of consumer behavior, it appears that neither awareness of the need to drink safe water nor affordability are the issue.

Current approaches to solving the challenge are home delivery and subscription services or the provision of water purifiers such as Pureit (the criticism being here that it benefits not those who need it the most). The ideas would be to find other solutions and increase social impact. During the breakout sessions a lot of new ideas emerged such as Improvement/Disney-fixation of queues for water kiosks e.g. through free access to internet or charging mobile phones, Pay-as-you-go models, free trials to create the habit, radical personalization/incentivization or leveraging social identity.


The speakers Alexia Perversi and Anthony Carey from Mazars agreed that investors are unanimous that non-financial information is used for investment decision making – screening, valuation and stewardship purposes.

CFA Institute’s 2017 survey, Global perceptions of environmental, social and governance issues in investing, 73% of respondents said they take ESG issues into account in their investment analysis and decisions. For the communities and citizens affected by the activities of the corporation, non-financial information disclosure enables them to assert their rights and restore trust in businesses. For investors and stakeholders, non-financial reporting is also a way to reinforce the stability and predictability of the firm’s performance on financial markets.

However, there are challenges needed to be overcame.

  • Information is publically available in different formats, who is using it and for what?
  • The variety of existing reporting standards and frameworks causes practical issues for assurance practitioners
  • The maturity of the reporting process affects the assurance process. As the information collected through evolving reporting systems can result in incomplete or unreliable information, it may make the assurance engagement subject to inherent limitations. The absence of robust reporting systems impacts whether sufficient appropriate evidence can be gathered
  • The management of the company determines the scope, subject matter, and what the suitable criteria are for reporting purposes. However, assessing whether those are appropriate and suitable for an assurance engagement can be challenging.

During the session, the group work collected views and ideas on how to address the aforementioned challenges revolving around independent audit, legal responsibility, self-reporting and use of SDGs as a standardized framework for reporting and auditing.

Leveraging technologies to address grand societal challenges

Tech4Impact is EPFL’s sustainable impact initiative that realizes innovative and entrepreneurial solutions that have the potential to achieve sustainable impact. Tech4Impact provides a common platform to engage with all stakeholders to accelerate the transformation towards sustainable society by leveraging technologies.

The challenge pitched by Julia Binder, Project Leader at Tech4Impact was focusing on how to break down silos and work on cross-sector technological solutions to advance on sustainable development.

By using the methodology of the matrix How-Now-Wow around 30 ideas were discussed and placed on the board. As the participants in the session had mostly academic background (professors and researchers) the debate and ideas involved academia or relations of academia and business. One of the discussed ideas was how relevant is publishing research papers in scientific journals and publications, the need for long-term interdisciplinary research and enabling innovations and design by skills sharing or using a specific academic sharing model for collaborative sustainable projects.

The best idea was picked by simple voting: multi-sector conversations and bilateral relationships. The idea owner Richard Wright, Behavioral Science Director at Unilever was asked to elaborate on the idea and to provide some details on how to proceed with the idea forward.

The team eventually discussed this idea in further details providing thoughts on project co-creation, how to decide on goals and success, how to have a precise and explicit input, who can be involved and how to involve others and the importance of sharing among stakeholders and collaborators.


The Carbon Literacy Project is a non-profit project that wants to offer to the general public a day’s worth of Carbon Literacy learning, covering – climate change, carbon footprints, its relevance and about the individual action to tackle this topic.

By growing public awareness on the impact of the current human carbon emissions, individuals are empowered to make more responsible decisions and actively contribute to reduce their carbon footprint by changing their behavior.

However, this project faces a set of challenges that need to be overcome. The challenges proposed by Dave Coleman, Managing Director at Cooler Projects CIC at the KIAF were on how to upscale the Carbon Literacy Project by increasing its financial resources, by engaging more people to be involved in the project and to actively participate at teaching other people about their carbon footprint, and lastly, how to reach out more people to increase the overall carbon literacy among society.

During the brainstorm, many interesting ideas were proposed. From developing strategies as gamification, creating partnerships with universities, business schools or private companies, developing e-learning platforms, or cooperating with the government to introduce carbon literacy to all schools.

Finally, the idea selected to outcome the proposed challenge was to set up an ambassadors network in partnership with other organizations to benefit of further volunteering, increase the availability of human resources and skills, and bringing the logistic support to organize more activities to have a greater outreach for the project.


The question presented by David PalazettiEugenio Massini from JEToP and Domenico Spadavecchia from Westminster Business Consultants, all part of Junior Enterprise Network, was how to create sustainable development of junior enterprises to have more awareness, impact and solid continuity.

Many ideas have been collected by the group with a high level of energy. The discussion was related to the continuity of local and central junior enterprise and the development of a better way of understanding between these two parts. Every year the whole staff of junior enterprises and the board must be renewed, which is a good principle during studies, but for continuous learning and development might be a disadvantage. One of the ideas was to connect with Junior Enterprise Network alumni and to build long lasting relationships with universities and business. Apart from this, junior enterprises need improvement in their overall strategy and narratives. The messages are too complicated. There is a need for alignment between the internal community and the external stakeholders.

The goal of the discussions after the idea generation was to make the ideas more specific. The working group discussed the need to improve communication, internally and externally to simplify, clarify and convince. The key values as story line in the improved communication should be “learning”, “employability”, “innovation and the SDGs” and “(future) leadership”.

It is important to focus on improved skills and competences, such as expert marketing competences, communication expertise and negotiation skills. On top there is a need for network training, a need to review the current marketing communication, the HR policy and the connection with higher education institutions.


Pay-for-success (PFS) programs can be a more practical financial tool for efficient use of private and public spending that can generate value-based sustainable solutions and potentially create more incentives for investing in social and environmental innovation.

The main challenge that Esben Rahbek Pedersen, Professor, Copenhagen Business School proposed was if there is a possibility to envision new financial business models for corporate sustainability while collaborating with public actors, service providers and investors.

The topic has many directions on where to lead the discussions. The breakout session was contemplating on the various possibilities of using Pay-for-success models as sustainable solutions and many ideas were generated and thoroughly discussed. The working group engaged in conversations on how to create a market for PFS and other financial models and how to apply them by public and private actors. Public-private partnerships promote joint vision and responsibility, enhance resource and knowledge base, improve data sharing and decision-making and the benefit of cross-sector learning. Excellent and abundant PFS practitioner methods, tools, models and technical partners can be accessed to provide detailed guidance when structuring projects. However, the group stumbled upon the drawbacks of these models as well. Projects take significant investments of time and effort and the transaction costs are still high while the payment structures need to be standardized.

Follow-up activities

Building on the breakout session, ABIS is translating the generated ideas into projects driving sustainable innovation. Interested participants will be contacted to further engage in working groups.

Stay in touch for more information regarding future projects and initiatives.

Closing remarks

The event was closed by Alfons Sauquet Rovira as his last engagement as Chair of the Board of Directors at ABIS.

We would like to thank him for 4 years of active guidance and for having had a central role in the development of the network. His experience and extensive work with partners and members contributed to advancing the role of business in society. We are very grateful for his contribution for the ABIS mission over these years.

Photos from the event


We would like to give recognition to the JEToP photo and video crew Giuseppe Restuccia, Giuseppe Buonanno and Marco Favaretto for their very professional services. It was a pleasure working with you!

We would like to thank Patrick Hull, Strategy Director CHRO Office at Unilever and former ABIS Board Member for his active engagement and his helpful insights during organization and planning of the Knowledge Into Action Forum.

We would also like to show our appreciation for the Four Acres staff for being very helpful on the day of the event.

Lasty, thank you, our participants, for engaging actively at our Knowledge Into Action Forum!


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