Treading Lightly and Leading Brightly: Thomas Robisco’s Inspiring Leadership Shaping the Green Landscape

Thomas Robisco | The Global Head of Sustainability at Sulzer
Thomas Robisco | The Global Head of Sustainability at Sulzer

We are entering into a world where businesses are not just profit engines but forces of positive change. This vision finds its embodiment in Thomas Robisco, the Global Head of Sustainability at Sulzer. He is a transformative leader who strives for sustainability in the intricate web of global corporations.

Thomas is renowned for differentiating businesses through elevated Social, Environmental and Governance standards. His mode of operation involves management by influence and integrity, guiding corporations towards ethical paths and ensuring sustainability is a guiding principle.

At the heart of Thomas’s approach lies his ability to craft leading ESG frameworks that serve as blueprints for enhancing a company’s attractiveness and practices. His transformative programs incorporate purpose, engagement and vision creating ripples in markets, uplifting people and preserving nature. As a recipient of an MSCI AA rating, Ecovadis Silver rating and UN Global Compact Ambassadorship, Thomas exemplifies the essence of sustainability leadership, ensuring Sulzer’s journey is not just about statistics but impactful change.

Thomas is a partner bridging internal stakeholders from C-level executives to functions such as finance, legal, R&D, and procurement along with forging influential alliances with external entities like UN Global Compact, S&P, Shell, Axa, or WWF.

Let’s explore how Thomas is transforming Sulzer into a sustainability powerhouse, driving positive change and shaping a brighter future for all!

The Green Phoenix

Embarking on a professional journey, Thomas was armed with a BSc in environmental sciences and he initially delved into the intricate realm of nuclear projects. However, a pivotal moment during an assignment shed light on the constraints of his education. “I realized the need for more knowledge,” he recalls. Thus, academia beckoned once again, propelling him into management roles within the chemical industry.

During this exploration, his journey took flight in Asia and soared across continents to Europe where he helmed the Environmental, Health & Safety function of a Seveso classified site owned by General Electric. These early experiences marked his foray into sustainability emphasizing product stewardship and stakeholder management. “It was my initiation into CSR projects, working alongside experts,” Thomas reminisces.

A significant turning point came when he transitioned into a global role within a major oil and gas company—Total Energies. Navigating diverse cultures and operational landscapes, he gained insights from varied sectors and monumental infrastructure projects. CSR projects became his forte, fostering a deep understanding of business dynamics.

Thomas’s expertise further flourished in the power generation sector, leading the operations and maintenance team for renewable energy projects. Amidst challenges like adverse environmental conditions, his focus on reliability proved paramount. “We had to be resilient, ensuring performance even in tough situations,” he states.

Later, he undertook transformative roles in major manufacturing and project companies (Alstom Power), spearheading sustainability strategies and integrating cultural transformations. His knack for turn-around plans shone as he became the Head of Sustainability for a 10-billion-dollar joint venture (ABB-Hitachi), crafting strategies and building teams.

In 2021, he embraced a new challenge joining an organization at the cusp of a sustainability revolution. Tasked with strategic planning and cultural transformation, Thomas embarked on reshaping the organization’s future. “It’s about structuring for long-term performance,” he asserts, ready to carve a sustainable legacy in the corporate landscape.

Evolving Solutions for Evolving Needs

“Sustainability, to me, is about anticipation, planning, robust execution, and meticulous risk management, paving the way for the company’s future leadership in the market.” Thomas asserts passionately.

Renowned for elevating businesses through heightened Social, Environmental and Governance standards, Thomas embodies the essence of a culture shaper. His path is marked by robust execution and tangible results, including a remarkable 30% emissions reduction in 18 months, securing Top Employer certification across five countries and fostering employees’ sustainable engagement at an impressive 87% in 18 months, a figure 8 points above the industry average.

Consider climate change—a well-documented phenomenon, but its impact on businesses requires a nuanced understanding. Thomas delves deep, analyzing not just their operations but the entire ecosystem. “We scrutinized critical logistic routes and suppliers, factoring in evolving climate patterns,” he explains. This in-depth assessment informs a strategic review, guiding leaders to reinforce resilience.

Transition risk is the second dimension of his strategy. He questions how industry decarbonization might reshape markets and revenue streams. “Understanding market dynamics and competitor reactions is crucial,” he emphasizes. These insights shape strategic decisions, steering investments in research and development and mergers and acquisitions.

Anticipating customers’ sustainability challenges is equally vital. By delving into their needs and future concerns, Thomas crafts a sustainable plan that addresses their evolving demands. “We’ve structured multi-year plans focusing on everything from decent working conditions to value chain impacts,” he says. These efforts have not only prepared the company but garnered recognition, landing them in the esteemed Financial Times European carbon leaders’ list for two consecutive years.

Treading the Green Path

Navigating the intricate terrain of integrating sustainability into a company’s governance is also one of the grounds Thomas faced significant challenges. “Starting from the Board level down to the organization, this process demands dedicated committees and integration into core business processes,” he explains. Roadblocks including varying perceptions of sustainability’s value test his resolve. His multifaceted approach involves education, creating momentum through diverse channels, bridging knowledge gaps and incorporating sustainability into existing practices.

Adaptability and timing play pivotal roles. “We move fast when conditions are favorable, slow down when needed, but always keep determination and the long-term perspective,” he emphasizes. Leveraging external stakeholders like customers and rating agencies along with staying ahead of the ESG landscape has become part of his strategy. Compliance with evolving regulations such as the EU sustainability standards is a vital guardrail, but only an outcome of what we aim at being the sustainable supplier of choice. Thomas emphasizes a deeper truth in terms of compliance with the standards, “Reporting is a mere reflection of our business performance, which is the driving force behind our sustainability journey.”

Anticipating customer needs and industry shifts, Thomas strategically linked sustainability to change. He acknowledges the risk of being too early or too late in this pursuit but emphasizes the importance of preparation. “Planting seeds and being ahead of impacts are long-term strategies,” he states, emphasizing the necessity of readiness and agility for organizational growth.

This process akin to an ultra-trail demands patience and resilience. Thomas’ determination, strategic anticipation and meticulous planning promise sustained success. His approach is about transforming the entire landscape, ensuring his company is adapting to change and driving it, all while laying the groundwork for a resilient and sustainable future.

Eco-Resilience in Succession

Throughout his career, Thomas’ leading or being part of diverse teams—particularly in experience, culture and age—has been a constant. “Age or experience, we learn from each other,” he remarks, reminiscing about his first team of seasoned professionals in his early 20s. Bridging generational gaps has been effortless, which is an example of mutual respect and shared learning.

Central to his team-building philosophy is recognizing individuals for their unique strengths. “Potential, adaptability, commitment—these are the cornerstones,” he emphasizes. As a leader, he meticulously plans for the future, nurturing talent and aligning their growth with organizational goals. His focus transcends current roles, emphasizing collaborative efforts that foster unity and seamless execution, benefiting stakeholders across the board.

Thomas values diversity not just in age, culture and experience but also in thought. “Diverse perspectives enrich our strategies,” he explains. By embracing varied viewpoints, his teams navigate assumptions, risks and opportunities with precision. This inclusivity doesn’t just foster respect—it cultivates a robust blend of insights. The diverse wisdom is a blend of ages, cultures and experiences serving as their collective strength, propelling them toward fulfilling their commitments with determination and innovative flair.

Innovate or Perish

In a world facing imminent environmental and societal challenges, innovation is a necessity for future success. Thomas is at the forefront of this ethos and believes that innovation is the lifeblood of resilient organizations, especially when confronting unpredictable systemic failures. His team’s dedication to innovation recently earned them a prestigious silver innovation award for groundbreaking sustainability digital solutions exemplifying their collaborative spirit. “We encourage creative thinking and risk-taking, fostering an environment where mistakes are valued as vital learning experiences,” he emphasizes.

For Thomas, innovation is about strategically adapting to a rapidly changing world. In the sustainability arena, this means exploring diverse avenues. Thomas sees potential in startups working on carbon embedding materials and recycling technologies, tackling the shift towards a circular economy. While these ventures pose risks, they also offer glimpses of groundbreaking solutions.

Thomas keeps a keen eye on these developments, ready to make strategic moves when the time is right. He also sees opportunities in emerging markets like electric vehicles leading to innovations in recycling and circular economies. By anticipating these needs and offering tested technologies companies can secure new revenue streams.

Energy storage is another frontier Thomas is passionate about. “Finding the right technologies opens new growth opportunities and secures a company’s future,” he asserts. Through strategic partnerships and innovative solutions, he believes companies can not only address societal challenges but also carve out a sustainable future.

Eco-Byte Revolution

Amidst the ever-evolving landscape of technology, Thomas and his team have embarked on a transformative journey propelled by the power of generative AI. “Exploring AI’s potential has reshaped our approach to sustainability planning,” Thomas affirms. Their foray into AI-generated videos for presentations and data aggregation has uncovered a world of possibilities. Utilizing internal tools, Thomas has meticulously built a sustainability data management system, enabling the automation of intricate reports. “This automation not only saves time but aligns reporting with business rhythms, allowing for real-time insights, scenario planning and integrated reporting,” he explains with his eyes set on efficiency and informed decision-making.

Beyond AI, Thomas keenly observes the horizon of technological advancements. Big data, the key player of Industry 4.0, seamlessly integrates sales and operations, optimizing production value. Satellite-based data coupled with GIS provides vital insights for climate and biodiversity studies, revolutionizing impact analysis and program design. Climate modeling, now faster and more accurate, aids in weather forecasts and critical infrastructure protection, exemplifying technology’s real-world applications.

Yet, technology’s influence extends to human dynamics. “Neurosciences offer valuable insights into team management and human factors,” Thomas notes, emphasizing the importance of understanding the human element in high-performing organizations.

Reflecting on recent breakthroughs, Thomas highlights the game-changing discovery of mRNA for vaccines. “The rapid development and delivery hold essential lessons for all industries,” he states, underscoring the collaborative spirit that propels innovation.

Their journey continues with an ever-vigilant pursuit of progress. “We adapt, recalibrate and stay ahead, ensuring technology not only shapes our future but ensures our resilience in the face of challenges,” Thomas says.

Dreaming in Green

In the realm of sustainability, Thomas is paving the way for his company toward a future where eco-consciousness is not just a virtue but a cornerstone of its identity. “We’re making sustainable data as reliable as financial data, building trust for further integration,” he affirms, outlining his immediate mission. Quarterly and monthly data collections aligned with reporting schedules serve as the foundation, ensuring robust and credible information akin to financial figures.

His vision extends beyond mere data collection. Thomas envisions a future where sustainability metrics directly impact the company’s financial landscape. “We’re connecting the dots between sustainable products, energy efficiency initiatives and cost structures,” he states. The aim is clear—showcasing that sustainable practices lead to tangible growth, proving that being eco-conscious is economically rewarding.

In Thomas’s roadmap, the company isn’t merely a participant but a leader. “We’re becoming the supplier of choice for advanced customers,” he declares. His strategy involves fortifying the company’s resilience while ensuring it can weather environmental changes and transitions successfully. To achieve this, he dives deep into sustainability challenges and mega-trends preparing the organization for the long haul.

Looking ahead, Thomas envisions a multifaceted role for himself. “I see great benefits in empowering Boards with expertise to future-proof their strategies,” he says, highlighting his goal to serve as both Chief Sustainability Officer and Chief Transformation Officer. His plan extends beyond this decade, positioning his company as a sustainability pioneer. By offering sustainable products, managing assets responsibly and attracting discerning customers and talents, he’s setting benchmarks in leading the industry toward a greener, more sustainable tomorrow.

Mapping Companies’ Eco-Future

Sustainability is about future-proofing companies as we transition towards new business paradigms and a transformed global landscape. The journey of transition is not only about adapting—it is fundamentally about financing this pivotal shift. Securing capital that aligns with sustainability is a life-altering event that marks a commitment to adapt to and secure future market shares and revenues.

As markets evolve, the demand for partners who embody sustainability increases. The impending challenge for businesses is to craft comprehensive plans robust enough to allure investors willing to champion and finance this transition. Achieving the status of a green bond-eligible company is a game-changer in this endeavor. Not only does it facilitate financing the transition at reduced costs, but it also sends a clear signal to the market—the company is proactively addressing the change and mitigating the risk of stranded assets, from operations to portfolios.

The objective here is transformation—a shift towards clean technology, fostering a culture of teamwork and forging a new ecosystem made of unusual partnerships to address complex challenges. Adherence to the above core values during this transition is imperative. It not only attracts the requisite talent dedicated to championing the transition but also grasps stakeholders’ trust in the companies’ ability to navigate future volatility.

Leaves of Leadership

Embarking on a sustainability journey demands a distinct set of skills according to Thomas. “Being a change agent is key,” he emphasizes, stressing the need to align one’s value proposition with the industry’s ecosystem. This understanding, rooted in profound knowledge of markets and portfolios, enables leaders to integrate sustainability deeply into the business model. It’s a core element defining a company’s performance and future sustainability.

Continuous learning is the bedrock of this leadership role. Thomas advocates for constant self-reflection and benchmarking against industry best practices. Expertise in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors is essential which is acquired through formal education, hands-on experience and dedicated self-learning. Moreover, leading by example is pivotal for fostering trust and engagement among peers.

Externally, engagement with stakeholders is fundamental. “Collaboration with customers, investors, regulators and NGOs is essential,” Thomas emphasizes. These collaborations provide invaluable insights helping leaders refine their strategies and optimize value propositions. Sustainability, he notes, is a collective effort that thrives on collaboration.

For aspiring sustainability leaders, Thomas highlights the importance of cultivating these traits. By embracing change, continuous learning and external collaboration, individuals can effectively champion sustainability within their organizations. These qualities not only drive immediate positive impacts but also pave the way for enduring long-term sustainability initiatives.

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