Three ‘Must Do’ for a Sustainable CEO. Interview With Livia Firth

By Frank Pagano, Senior Partner at Jakala, Advisor, Shareholder at Tokenance, Author

Can you do business well, and make some good for your company’s bottom line, your employees, and the community you are in? Can you chase profits and thrive, while having the planet benefit from your offer in terms of products and services? Can a CEO be sustainable at all?

These are the ‘hot’ questions for us, as a business and global community, for the next few years, at least if we want to hit the target of reducing the temperature of the planet by 1.5 degrees Celsius until 2030, according to UN experts and international agreements (see IPCC, for example). We sat down with a black belt in sustainability, Livia Firth, the boss at Eco-Age, her world-known organization, which helps companies in their journey to net zero. This is what she had to say.

Q: Who are you and what do you do for a living?

I am Livia Giuggioli Firth and I have many hats in my professional life, so my daily job is quite interesting, I would say. 17 years ago, I co-founded and still run Eco-Age, the leading global agency in sustainability, which creates systemic solutions in line with science and in solidarity with human rights. As a part of Eco-Age, I founded and I am the strategy and creative director of the Green Carpet Fashion Awards, the yearly Oscar Week event, uniting the power of the fashion and entertainment industry to champion interconnected cultural change and the most inspiring efforts that drive it. As a part of Eco-Age, we also do lots of policy and advocacy work, and I run lots of multi partners campaigns.

I am also the co-founder and one of the board directors of The Circle NGO. For the past 4 years, I have been Vogue Arabia sustainably editor and write two pages every month about a variety of topics. Finally, I am the co-founder and I am involved, daily, with Quintosapore, our family farm in Umbria, and I produce documentaries.

Q: Tell me something nobody knows about you.

I am technologically ‘impaired’, and I find it very hard to operate in a world which is more and more controlled and managed via tech.  A couple of years ago we wanted to open an Eco-Age division in the metaverse, and then the team gave up, especially on me. I didn’t even ask them what happened when they tried to get me on Tik Tok.

Q: What’s unique about Eco-Age?

We have seen it all, done it all, and started working on sustainability before anyone else. This is the reason why we are so respected and trusted. We are the only ones who have an incredible address book, and work across sectors, from business to NGOs, and from institutions such as the UN, to governments. No other agency or business has a Chief Agitator Officer (which is me).

Q: What are the three things that any company should do right away, to become more sustainable?

There is no straightforward answer, or no straightforward action plan, as each business is at a different level in their journey, operates in different industries, probably, and across different countries, depending on their supply chain. This is why (1) we always start with a “health check”. Then, the strategy should be (2) to know and measure your supply chain, like you would know your best friend (not too surprisingly, most businesses do not know much about it, as they have multiple tiers of suppliers or contractors). (3) Finally, be aware of all the legislations coming, as there are a lot of laws in the making, globally, and they will change business as usual, and as we know it.

Q: Is there hope to transform the world of business before it’s too late?

What moves business is money. Therefore, follow the money while transforming your business if you still want to be profitable in a few years. Business has never been moved by morals or ethics (which is shocking, if you think about it), and yet CEOs or shareholders, who make business decisions daily, are often going home to their children, and are planning their future as if their actions at work would not impact that future. It is mind-blowing.

So, talk money to them, and ask them: do you want to be the one who sank the Titanic, or do you want to be the one who saved it? Because, even if you have money to get on a rescue boat, you won’t be able to use your money there, while you try to reach some sort of safe shore.

Q: Where can we find you?

I work from many different places, and our offices are in London and Milano. I work a lot remotely, and my favorite desk is at home, in Umbria, where Quintosapore, my farm, is based.