ICRS Board Perspectives on the Current World of Sustainability

What does the future hold for young CRS professionals? How will the CRS landscape respond to the increasing corporate focus on ESG issues? And how can organisations go beyond simply box-ticking exercises to incorporate true change? As part of a new series of ICRS Board Perspectives, this article reflects on the current world of sustainability.

 

New ways of working

Dr Sam Healy, Director of CR, QinetiQ

The last 12 months has required organisations to adapt to new ways of working for their employees and delivery to customers. We need to take stock of what we have learned and challenge some of the previous norms that we took for granted, such as commuting, office space, digital connectivity and work-life balance. This does not apply to all roles and all companies, but there are significant opportunities to embed new ways of working that can be significantly more sustainable and inclusive.  

 

Inclusive leadership: a key differentiator

Karin Mueller, Director of Leibfrog

With diversity and inclusion increasingly in the spotlight and a fundamental aspect of every sustainability agenda, it is crucial for organisations to go beyond box-ticking and take meaningful action to make organisations fairer and therefore more effective.

More than ever, organisations must attract, motivate and retain a diverse workforce that brings a wide range of perspectives and talents to tackle increasingly challenging problems. Successful leaders understand the importance and benefits of inclusive cultures, continuously pushing themselves to lead more inclusively.

 

Why young people are key

Rachel Woolliscroft, Director of BayNel

It is a difficult time for people starting their career. Already exposed to environmental degradation, the consequences of the financial crisis, rising inequality and disruption from industrial and digital transformation, the younger generation face serious challenges to their education, career aspirations, economic prospects and mental health. All these issues have been exacerbated by COVID-19.  

Over 20% of young people globally are not in education, employment or training. Here in the UK, nearly 600,000 people aged 16–24 are unemployed. This generation is our future talent – so, regardless of our sector, we are all responsible for empowering young people and providing support networks for the years ahead.  

An area where we can all contribute is by ensuring young people have a voice in the global post-pandemic recovery. The Princes Trust Youth Index 2021 shows that 1 in 3 young people think their opinions on issues do not matter, yet over 75% believe their generation can change the future for the better. If we do not engage them now to be part of the decision-making to build back better, the decisions made could be entirely rejected by this generation.

All businesses can give young people greater channels to make their voices heard. They are and will be the agitators of change, enabling us to build an economy and society that is fairer and more sustainable for all.

 

The case for business action

Andrew Wilson, Independent Consultant

The global pandemic has graphically highlighted the interconnected, interdependent nature of our economic, social and environmental systems. It has caused a reappraisal of corporate risk, changing what it means to be responsible and sustainable. Business leaders increasingly recognise their vulnerability to external shocks, accelerating three important changes in how companies think and act:

Business continuity will require companies to reimagine their value chain. At a minimum, they will need to examine the quality and viability of their suppliers, as well as assessing the materials they use and the countries from which these are sourced.  
Consumers will demand much higher levels of transparency about products and seek information about the social and environmental impacts on the people involved in getting them onto the shelf or into the online shopping basket.
There will be a significant shift to principles of a circular economy as companies seek to design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use for longer and reduce the reliance on new inputs to the production process. 

In short, I believe we will see a seismic shift from sustainability to business resilience. The business case for action has never been so clear or so emphatic. 

 

ESG investing: the right impact?

Jennie Galbraith, Sustainability Director, BAT

Businesses can only make progress in their ESG strategies if they convince the financial markets that they are worth the investment. In that context, 2021 will be a key year for ESG strategies, which the pandemic has squarely put the focus on, with the $715 billion impact investment market set to grow and investors aiming to double their sustainable investments over the next five years. As well as demonstrating that they have considered and engaged with all relevant stakeholders during a difficult year, companies looking to take advantage of this market must show that their companies have a plan and are on the path to lasting positive impacts – for people and the planet. 

 

The future for CRS professionals

Anita Longley, Chair of ICRS

This is a time of change and extraordinary opportunity. The investor focus on ESG, emerging legislation around climate change and social justice, as well as greater connectivity with nature and the community, provide strong incentives for business action. 

CRS professionals will be expected to deliver across a wide sphere of fast-changing social and environmental issues. We will need to be bold and collaborative, maintain momentum and avoid knee-jerk reactions. A greater understanding of sustainability in the workforce, the investor community and the Boardroom will be critical. And those new to the profession need support. Keeping up to date with emerging and sometimes conflicting standards and best practice requires focus. Most of all, we must deliver with integrity.

 

The Private Sector is key to our future

David Logan, Author and Consultant

According to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, there were 5.7 million private sector companies in the UK in 2018. Together, these companies employ over 27 million people, nearly 80% of all the UK working population; government and non-profit sectors employ the rest. Of these companies, 7,510 are classed as large, employing a combined 10.7 million people.

These companies are a powerful driving force in society. They are critical to helping it face the economic, social and – above all – environmental issues of the future. Corporate responsibility and sustainability work is about helping companies positively engage in the process of shaping humanity’s shared future

 

Sustainability has entered the boardroom – but were CRS professionals ready?

Robbie Epsom, EMEA Head of ESG, CBRE Global Investors

In 2019, sustainability jumped to the top of the corporate agenda, with the launch of sustainability and net zero strategies and the rewriting of entire value propositions. Despite the pandemic, this momentum accelerated in 2020 – and in 2021, it is clear that sustainability has firmly gone mainstream and is as much a part of many decision processes as traditional risk and strategic considerations.

What does this mean for the average CRS professional? Conversations have shifted up several gears in a very short space of time and (in most cases) many levels in terms of audience and impact. CRS professionals now interact at the c-suite level, engaging on everything from a company’s core global strategy to project go-ahead, investment decisions and business direction. This is a significant and palpable change for many in the CRS profession. The outcome of our advice has major repercussions and is scrutinised to a much greater degree, sometimes leading CRS professionals to be live commentators in the media.

We’ve got our wish. Sustainability is now mainstream, and is front and centre – but was the average CRS professional ready for this change? As individuals, we must cope with this unprecedented new responsibility as we push further into this critical decade for the planet.   

 

The ESG awakening

Vic Taylor, Managing Director, Flag

Mainstream investors, CEOs and their Boards are really starting to take ESG issues seriously – the realisation that this really matters to their businesses’ future success has really hit home. Climate change and associated issues are real; if business and society are to thrive, they have a part to play.

But a CEO deciding they want to lead a sustainable business, produce an ESG report or simply be a responsible company does not instantly make an organisation or business system sustainable. We need more than words, more than communications – we need organisational and societal change.

Governance structures, policies and procedures, and scorecards should all be overhauled. Companies must set real goals that are far-reaching and science-based. And achieving those goals has to be non-negotiable.

Only through this level of change will we become responsible corporates, responsible investors and a responsible society. It will take a huge amount of effort, but that is the necessary next step. Until we take it, and make the investments in time and resources, we will not see the systemic change we need.  

 

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