british american tobacco p.l.c. sustainability report 2009 - Chief Executive's overview

Paul Adams

Our sustainability goals are not just an ‘add-on’. We see them as intrinsic to our strategy and a cornerstone of building sustainable value.

Paul Adams Chief Executive

How can you be responsible when you need to sell tobacco products and compete?

We believe we can run our business responsibly – and that we must. Because tobacco products are legal and used by millions of adults, but also controversial, we have a particular responsibility to work hard at doing the right things in every way that we run our business. No business can be sustainable if it doesn’t compete and prosper. We aim to build long term sustainable value for our shareholders, and our sustainability goals are not just an ‘add-on’. We see them as intrinsic to our strategy and a cornerstone of building sustainable value.

2009 was a year of global recession and it’s been said that businesses might cut back on sustainability initiatives. Did you?

No, we didn’t. We believe that our business strategy is robust for both good times and bad, and 2009 certainly seemed to bear that out. It was one of the toughest years for all businesses that most of us can remember. However, we not only delivered sound returns to our shareholders, but also continued steadily pursuing our sustainability agenda.

What progress did you make on your sustainability agenda?

As you’ll see in the Report, examples include our clinical studies towards potentially lower risk products and the roll out of our new global campaign to help retailers block cigarette sales to the underage. We also continued to drive for 100 per cent adherence by our own companies to our International Marketing Standards, with action plans to close any gaps. 

We kept up the pressure for action against the problem of the illicit tobacco trade and continued to help enforcement authorities to crack down on it. As part of keeping our own supply chain secure, we successfully trialled our enhanced ‘track and trace’ system, so that it can track every carton and case a factory produces and will give open access to customs authorities. 

It was another year of strong environmental progress, we began presenting our business more compellingly to potential employees, and we brought clearer focus to monitoring any of our businesses in countries that cause human rights concern to stakeholders. Our reporting now also includes more about the sustainability activities of our larger companies around the world. We hope this provides a more representative account of our business. 

Last year you said you would pursue innovative ways to work with stakeholders on key issues. Did you?

Yes; we trialled a new form of dialogue, involving over 60 stakeholders in a ‘workshop’ approach to co-developing plans for our leaf and materials supply chain. This has contributed to a global sustainable supply chain strategy, now being developed. It was refreshing and uplifting to develop initiatives together with stakeholders and we would like to do more of it. 

Unfortunately, engagement with the stakeholders most critical of our industry remains a challenge. They are reluctant to engage and some refuse point-blank. However, where we have at times been able to engage with stakeholders who are very critical of us, some have expressed surprise at the openness of the discussions. Our door remains open.

How do you measure success?

We hope stakeholders will judge us by our actions. So it’s important that we make commitments we can truly work to meet, to meet them to the best of our ability and, if we don’t, to explain why. 

We are also greatly encouraged to have been selected for the eighth year running as the only tobacco company in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index, and to have become the first tobacco business in the top ‘Platinum’ rank of Business in the Community’s Corporate Responsibility Index.

We don’t take these assessments for granted – they spur us to work harder. We know that we still have much to do and our sustainability goals are largely about steady steps, not overnight results. But as I look ahead, I believe our values and commitment to sustainability will help us to hold a steady course and prosper in future.

Paul Adams

April 2010

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