This is part of a case series. The case is about a company in one of the so-called sin industries that has committed to phase out cigarettes – the origin of its sins – in favor of a smoke-free future based on reduced-risk products. In early 2020, Huub Savelkouls, Chief Sustainability Officer at Philip Morris International (PMI) and Jennifer Motles Svigilsky, PMI’s Director of Social Impact & Sustainability, were working on the company’s first ever integrated report due for publication in June 2020. Motles, perceived skepticism and mistrust about PMI’s strategy and, specifically, serious doubts about the health effects of IQOS. In 2017, the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative, in conjunction with Tobacco Free Portfolios, had called for a Tobacco-Free Finance Pledge. By 2020, the pledge had 141 signatories and 41 supporters. Some environmental, social and governance (ESG) investors still seemed interested in PMI’s strategy, but not many were ready to engage publicly. In January 2020, they met with Professor Robert G Eccles (PMI’s advisor on matters regarding sustainability, social impact and investor engagement since May 2019). They were ready to build and validate PMI’s materiality matrix and try to align stakeholders’ demands with PMI’s priorities. They needed to look at PMI’s value proposition in more depth in light of the feedback received from stakeholders and the significance of PMI’s impact on society and the environment. And they needed to do this in the context of a blanket exclusion of the tobacco industry by ESG investors, mistrust from stakeholders and reputational liabilities. Motles stressed the importance of validating the sustainability materiality matrix because she thought that materiality was a foundational concept in integrated reporting. The case ends with Motles feeling the challenge (a make-or-break moment for her career) and how much was at stake; the sustainability team could not let their stakeholders down and destroy the rapport they were trying to build.
- Describe material sustainability topics.
- Propose a sustainability materiality matrix while recognizing and balancing stakeholders’ demands.
- Prioritize materiality issues from ESG investors´ perspectives.
- Prioritize material sustainability topics-based relevance for corporate strategy and their impact on society and environment.
- Self-assess values and be aware of them when facing cognitive dissonance as well as take responsibility for values and their impact on decisions.
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