The acronym ESG is all around us now. There has been a bewildering growth in companies of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) measures. Some listed companies have to report on 2000+ non-financial indicators representing aspects of what their stakeholders are interested in. Over the past few decades, there has been a complete flip in the value composition on company balance sheets: 80% of the value is now intangible, and 20% tangible. It used to be the reverse. The power of what consumers and stakeholders say has increased dramatically and companies are listening.
There is a well-established saying that ‘what gets measured gets managed’. Institutional investors are interested in safe and productive investments. They need to know if today’s actions will produce returns; they also know that financial returns depend on the environmental and social impacts as well as the practices and outcomes of governance.
Shareholders, boards, executives, and staff of companies who take their future seriously want to know what direction they are moving in, what risks they are facing, and where the opportunities of the future lie. Stock exchanges, securities regulators, Central Banks, bankers, utilities and their regulators, governments – they all want to know if the actions of the organizations they regulate, lead or serve, are generating value over time, rather than contributing to risks for society and the economy and in the process destroying the very basis of existence.
The media and civil society seek to inform and act in the interest of citizens and so they too want to know if there is progress or decline.
SPINNING IN ALPHABET SOUP: P IS FOR PURPOSE
Ever-increasing evidence of fundamental disruptions is all around us. The urgency and gravity of the situation led to an exponential global rise in investment funds and stakeholders that are interested in making meaningful ESG impacts.
That is why outdated corporate governance models, outdated business and accounting models must give way to the challenges and opportunities we are facing now.
The IFRS Foundation is currently still receiving consultation comments on amending its constitution that would lead to a proposed creation of an International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) and include climate-related disclosure requirements in a first instance.
164 member countries of ISO have been balloted and agreed to adopt ISO 37000 Governance of organizations – Guidance” and organizational purpose is at the very centre of governance in the 21st Century. Trinidad & Tobago, Saint Lucia and Jamaica are represented and their nominated experts are co-drafting and taking active leadership of the standards.
These developments somewhat mirror the wider evolution.
THE RACE TO ZERO CARBON
733 cities, 31 regions, 3,067 businesses, 173 of the biggest investors, and 622 Higher Education Institutions, which together represent 25% of global CO2 emissions and over 50% of GDP have joined in the largest ever alliance committed to achieving Net Zero Carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest (within 30 years). That is no mean feat! Over the past 30 years global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions have grown by almost 60 %!
In order to achieve this target, we need to collectively achieve about 8% reduction in emissions every year – this is about as much as was achieved during the global lockdown in the early months of the pandemic in 2020. We have to be able to repeat this effect for the next 30 years.
Take food production: at present, food production is responsible for about 70% of biodiversity loss through land-use change, habitat fragmentation, overexploitation, illegal wildlife trade and invasive species. Over the next 30 years, the world will need to produce 50% more food than today in order to feed the 10 billion people that will exist by then. At the same time, however, we need to reduce the impact of food production by almost 70%.
What is needed is nature-positive innovation: new solutions for current and emerging problems of people and the planet.
THE CHALLENGE IS THE SOLUTION
Mark Carney, the UN special envoy for climate change and finance, and former Bank of England Governor said in 2019: “Companies that ignore climate change and don’t adapt will go bankrupt without a question.”
Declarations are not enough anymore. In 2011 signatories to the Convention on Biodiversity, including Caribbean countries, have agreed on 20 targets for protecting life on Earth (the “Aichi targets”). When we look back, none of the goals have been fully met and only six of the targets have been partially met.
No day passes without a headline about bold moves by small and large businesses, cities, regions, and governments making courageous transformative moves. This trend will not stop. It will accelerate. Why? Simply because we are at the start of the confluence of a number of crises and disruptive transformations that have complex interactions with ever-increasing impacts that we all feel and see. All of these require solutions, offer opportunities; and people, organizations, cities, and countries are taking action.
There are many more, and very different ‘jobs to be done’ for organizations. Anyone who creates meaningful solutions to the problems of people and the planet can count on rich rewards! Beyond reward, however, the prize and purpose must be perceived as restoring the planet itself.
This article is part of the "Purpose with Profit" Column and an earlier version was published in the Newsday (Trinidad & Tobago) in July 2021.