Ivona Balint-Kowalczyk
Sustainability consultant, founder of Sustainao
Ivona’s introduction

Ivona is a sustainability consultant, founder of Sustainao, a Singapore-based company that helps businesses in their sustainability journey, from conducting materiality assessments, creating a sustainability strategy, to implementing and improving sustainability reporting and performance.

Ivona has an MBA in CSR-Sustainability and a master’s degree in Environmental Management. She has first worked for Air France Industries and Arkema in their environmental and sustainability departments. After that, she has gained strong experience as a sustainability auditor for KPMG France. She verified non financial information published in the Sustainability Reports of French groups of Media, Agri-food, Transport, Industry sectors and conducted audits in 15 countries across Europe, Africa and Asia.

You started your sustainability journey with Environment Management studies 8 years ago. What triggered your choice?

I spend my childhood in a farm surrounded by a forest and later in a village in Romania. We had all sorts of vegetables, fruits and animals. My parents would make their own cheese, wine, pickled vegetables, jam, and so on. We had little plastic waste and everything else was somehow reused, recycled or donated. 

Then I moved to town for high school, then in Paris for university. I was startled by the differences in food consumption, waste generated and air quality. I started to have many questions around the environment and sustainability. In the meantime, I was finishing my bachelor’s degree in chemistry-biology, and the transition to environmental studies seemed the perfect path to spend time searching for answers and solutions.

With Sustainao, you provide sustainability reporting services to companies. People are often discouraged by reporting, why is that?

Reporting requires time, patience, energy, motivated and trained people, data collection tools, procedures, management support, and most important, clear goals. Reporting without a clear sustainability strategy can easily be perceived as useless and just time consuming. Plus, if the main trigger for doing reporting is compliance, the whole process can rapidly be heavy and pressuring. 

In order for sustainability reporting to be successful, companies need to find value in this process, other than just the publication of an annual sustainability report for legal purposes. Once sufficient parties within a company see the value of sustainability, they will also see the need for good sustainability reporting and allocate sufficient resources to achieve it.

Could you explain why sustainability audit is important for businesses?

There are different types of audit in sustainability: topic-specific (e.g. waste management) or general (sustainability practices and reporting of a company), for certification or for assurance, internal or external audit, mandatory or voluntary, etc. 

Depending on these factors, the purpose and the benefits of the audit will be different. My experience is in sustainability assurance, which is focused on verifying that sustainability disclosures are compliant against a regulation or framework and that data is accurate. I find sustainability assurance an important step in a company’s sustainability journey, as it improves the company’s internal processes and controls, and strengthens credibility and awareness for both external and internal stakeholders. 

What I personally found interesting was to see how sustainability strategies are implemented at the subsidiary level. When auditing multinational companies, you get to talk with both the headquarters and the local teams in different countries. You can see what information is missing in both parts, the misunderstandings, the different local expectations and pressure from stakeholders, etc. Especially in this case, audit is a wonderful tool to improve sustainability reporting and facilitate the implementation of a sustainability strategy.

What are the minimal criteria to look into when you want to start a more sustainable strategy?

The minimal criteria would be: 1. knowing what sustainability issues are most relevant for your business and 2. knowing what your internal and external stakeholders expect from you in terms of sustainability. Once you have these two factors, you have a solid foundation to build a sustainability strategy that will bring value to your business and your stakeholders. Without it, you might get lost in the multitude of sustainability issues, focus on certain subjects you have little impact on, and maybe completely miss other aspects that could be more relevant in terms of risks, opportunities and value.

What are you the most proud of?

Starting my own business. It’s a challenging but fascinating path.

What would be your top 3 advice to The Matcha Initiative (TMI) users?
  • Knowledge is power. Understanding the whole picture, what matters the most for your business and your stakeholders will make your sustainability journey more efficient and relevant and it will help you better convince others. 
  • You need support. Sustainability is meant to be transversal in a company. Try to bring together all departments, like obviously the general management, the human resources management, HSE management (if applicable), but also don’t forget about communication and PR, legal, production, purchasing, sales, marketing and R&D.
  • Measure your performance and set targets. Implement KPIs and set targets for your material issues. and chose adequate tools and methodology from the beginning of the reporting process to collect and analyze the data.
How could you help The Matcha Initiative (TMI) users?

I am happy to share with the TMI users my experience and knowledge on sustainability reporting, audit and strategy.

Ivona kindly accepts to answer your questions.
If you need additional insights, you can send her a message.