Philip Walter

With increased scrutiny and a strong appetite for businesses to step up their efforts to achieve a fairer, more sustainable world, Philip Walter, Chief Operating Officer at Bailie Group, shares the lessons his company has learned and offers advice to others wishing to develop an environmental and social governance (ESG) strategy of their own.

In days gone by, the government was seen as a main driver of change. Issues which were not high on the political agenda didn’t feature prominently for the vast majority of businesses either. But fast-forward to today and humanity has taken a vast leap. With increased access to information, awareness of environmental and social issues has soared — and so too has society’s commitment to making better choices.

Much of this change has been made possible by young minds, who have become progressively curious about the planet — asking valuable questions, expecting answers, and influencing those far senior when it comes to striving for change.

Though we have always prided our company on its commitment to making a positive difference, the arrival of an increasingly environmentally and ethically aware workforce has inspired Bailie Group to view this with a renewed focus.

Pledging to achieve net zero by 2050 and to halve emissions by 2030, we have approached our sustainability goals with conviction. We were recently named a climate leader by the United Nations’ ‘Race to Zero’ initiative, and invited to Downing Street to meet with Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and Energy Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng.

Moving at pace towards achieving our ambitions, we’re now well on with our journey — but the process hasn’t been without its difficulties. We have learned a lot of lessons along the way that I want to share with others wishing to develop an environmental and social governance (ESG) strategy of their own.

Step 1: Gain ‘buy in’ from team members

Initially, before embarking upon the project, the leadership team has to be in agreement. They must effectively champion the concept in order to make it a success. After all, creating an ESG framework isn’t a short-term project and to be done well, it needs to become a passion for everyone. 

Delivering on energy efficiency goals may necessitate restraint in terms of heating levels, for example, or a commitment to using responsible transport methods. On the other hand, the social requirement may require a re-think when it comes to recruitment and use of time during the working day. Each factor has a direct impact on working conditions across the board.  

Therefore, once the senior team is aligned, it must be weighed up among the wider workforce. It will require an ongoing commitment from all staff, which means their ‘buy in’ is vital. 

Consider the practicalities and how these can be correctly managed. Suggesting that employees can volunteer is admirable — but how will you free up their workloads so those individuals aren’t then spending two hours ‘catching up’ later on?

If those same team members are then working outside of hours to account for that contribution, that doesn’t constitute a true ‘company-driven’ social strategy — but merely a business masquerading as creating social impact, while its staff effectively volunteers their own time to charity.

Careful consideration around what needs to be put in place to accommodate changes, therefore, is essential.

Step 2: Take the first steps

Take inspiration from others working towards the same goals. If they are as passionate as they say, they will be willing to share their experiences which will be hugely beneficial — particularly at the start of the process.

Consult an organisation which specialises in advising companies in this area. Planet Mark has been a fantastic, ongoing resource which continues to be invaluable as we progress in our efforts. But there are other groups doing similarly fantastic work, B Corp being one.

Without an association to this kind of group, businesses risk not holding themselves accountable and could ultimately lack the momentum needed to move forward effectively. These organisations are also a useful means to meet peers with the same aspirations, who can become a useful sounding board throughout.

Step 3: Address the concept in its entirety

Naturally an ESG strategy requires action to be centred around two areas. Currently, the environmental aspect is the focus of much attention, but the social governance element is equally as deserving of interest – and a component which is essential in a true ESG strategy.

But social governance is about more than just writing a cheque for charity – of course, raising money for valuable causes is admirable — but instigating social change is much broader, with additional measures which can be implemented alongside fundraising efforts.

Areas for focus include:

  • Recruitment — running apprenticeship schemes, recruiting ex-offenders or the long-term unemployed, allowing team members to spend time volunteering in schools, or giving careers guidance are all valid examples.
  • Procurement — looking at ethical procurement within the supply chain. Do clients and suppliers have measures in place to ensure fair and moral practice, such as anti-slavery policies, across their organisations?
  • Engage with the personal passions of the team – if staff have a strong interest in particular subjects — for example mental health or charities — find ways to support that during the working day. It may be delivering training or giving people time to volunteer for worthy causes.

However, measuring social value — when moving beyond simply donating money — is more difficult. And in making a true commitment to this area, it is vital that impact can be monitored, evaluated, and acknowledged. Working alongside Planet Mark, Bailie Group has gained a far more robust understanding of the ways that people and businesses can make positive contributions in society.

When it comes to environmental improvements, there are a number of ways that organisations can make headway in this area. Examples include:

  • Reassessing the infrastructure of corporate buildings – installing energy efficient air-source heating pumps, replacing lighting with LED bulbs and sensors, and installing electric vehicle charging points.
  • Encouraging responsible travel choices with secure bicycle storage, showering facilities, and season ticket loans for public transport, as well as improving IT infrastructure so that travel during the day can be minimised.
  • Monitoring emissions via CO2 reports – this is a complex task but can be made simpler through the use of tools which transform CO2 data into CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) – some suppliers, such as Corporate Traveller, will provide the initial CO2 data for rail and air travel which can then be converted.
  • Replacing company vehicles with electric or consider removing them altogether.
  • Offsetting unavoidable emissions.

Step 4: Lead by example

Become a champion of the initiative and lead by example. Seeing senior colleagues taking time out to make better choices, to pursue worthy causes, and praising others in their efforts is the key to making the changes an intrinsic part of the culture of an organisation.

With this level of encouragement, others will soon follow suit. Offering what you can — whether that’s just a couple of hours per week of volunteering, or a commitment to using public transport to travel to work — in a country of circa 30 million workers could soon create a powerful social and environmental impact.

Step 5: Keep it on the agenda

One of the most important things, is to keep ESG on the monthly meeting agenda. Creating the environment for positive change and then monitoring and measuring it is the only way to successfully work towards creating worthwhile, long-term changes which will have far-reaching benefits.

Step 6: Small steps lead to big change

Whether a micro, medium or large organisation – the process is likely to involve varying levels of complexity. But change, whether big or small, is a step in the right direction.

With COP26 — the United Nations-hosted conference —in progress, the climate change crisis will once again take precedence on the world stage. For those who have remained reluctant, now is the time to begin to question common practices and take accountability for the areas in which many fall short.

And as we stride forward into a new era, where a responsible approach to environmental and social issues becomes mainstream, change is certainly afoot in the corporate arena.

Key takeaways…

  • Embrace employees’ different perspectives on ESG topics within your business, get buy in at all levels and put support in place for a strategy that will have longevity
  • Get connected with others who have similar aspirations and find support in organisations such as Planet Mark and B Corp
  • Consider different areas of environmental and social governance that your business can address including volunteering, changing infrastructure, travel and recruitment as well as donations
  • Keep ESG on your leadership’s agenda and set an example so that your entire staff feel empowered to work towards your strategy
  • For more information about Bailie Group visit https://www.bailiegroup.co.uk/
  • For more inspiration, advice and support on running your business visit the UMi platform: https://www.weareumi.co.uk/webapp/

 

 

Philip Walter
Contributed by Philip Walter
Neina Sheldon
Article by Neina Sheldon
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