If there was one clear message from the recent Round Table event on ESG and The Social Responsibilities of Modern Businesses it is that how to implement an ESG structure is anything but clear.
The event, organised by All Things Business, brought together some of the region’s largest companies, companies that the All Things Business team had identified as being among the leading thinkers in terms of sustainability and ESG (environmental, social and governance) standards.
The discussion was led by Adrian Pryce DL, Associated Professor, Strategy and Society, CBCP at the University of Northampton and guests included representatives from event sponsors MHA, construction firm Winvic, communications company dbfb, French-owned Milton Keynes bakery goods company Brioche Pasquier, energy management solutions organisation eEnergy, fruit importer and distributor SH Pratt Group and SEMLEP (the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership).
The idea behind this, the first in a series of four Round Table events, was to bring together larger companies and organisations that could share ideas and best practice from which smaller companies could learn.
Adrian Pryce said:
“It was clear from the early exchanges that there is no simple way of looking at and approaching ESG and sustainability because it covers such a wide range of topics. What we have to look at is how we can form a strategy in an area that is always changing and where the focus today is different from what it was a few years ago and from what it will be a few years from now.”
Kevin Jackson, Strategic Account Director at eEnergy, added:
“People hear about sustainability and think of it as saving the planet but sustainability and ESG is about people as well, and then there’s two sides to that – people who work for you and people in the community where you operate – then you have to think about people inside your customers’ businesses and people inside your supply chain. It’s no wonder, if you’re a small business, dealing with Brexit, the cost-of-living crisis and Ukraine and everything else that’s going on, that you find it hard to find time to learn and keep up with the demands of ESG.”
Adrian invited the group to think about their motives and strategy for ESG and its implementation.
Ryan Peters, Managing Director at Brioche Pasquier, said:
“We are a family-run company and it’s important to us that we have a strategy is as simple as possible, getting the best products as fresh as possible to our clients, but we also have a CEO and board that works hard to ensure that our retailers meet their targets, and that we support farmers in reducing the pesticides they use, that’s all very important to us.”
Arun Thaneja, Technical Services and Sustainability Director at Winvic explained that the firm took a lead in adapting its processes back in 2017, changing its own ways of working and adopting a collaborative approach with it’ Green Supply Chain. Working with them to meet the needs of their clients.
“Products and innovation back in 2017 prompted us to look at what we could do differently in terms of what we offer, allowing us to take a more strategic and tactical approach to make sure we were ahead of the competition,” said Arun. “Now when we’re tendering, sustainability is a significant proportion of the process. We believe that being at the forefront of the industry, developing our internal Sustainability Team and processes to ensure we stay ahead whilst working together with our value chain has given us opportunities to meet demands some of our competitors may struggle to meet.”
Anne Walton, ESG Director of MHA, said:
“We take a holistic view of the audit side of the work we do and that includes clients’ ESG. That is becoming a bigger part of the framework of our advisory work. We provide them with a three-step approach that involves looking at their structure and talking to them about what they are doing and how they can improve things. For that reason, it’s important that we look closely at ourselves and our own structure, so we have things like Lunch and Learn in the offices to help people understand what we are trying to do and the part they play in that.”
There are obstacles, at times, to successful ESG and sustainability, as outlined by Richard Cook, Business Development Manager at SEMLEP. He said:
“The cost of energy has given quite a lot of people the impetus to look at alternatives like EVs and solar panels, but then we hear that there are concerns about electric vehicles long-term, and that the amount of carbon in solar panels means they’re not necessarily the ideal alternative, and people are understandably confused about what to do for the best.”
Lee Horsman, Design Director at what was ACS and is now part of the German company Bechtle, said:
“As ACS, through our Managing Director Jon Thorpe, we have built a reputation for the philanthropic work we do within the community that Jon is incredibly proud of, and I am convinced that will continue. There’s been a lot of change over the past few months, and we are still working on the new ESG framework but once it settles down I’m confident we will continue to build on what we have been doing in Northampton.”
Leigh Spanner, Sustainability Director at SH Pratt Group, which imports bananas for supermarkets and retailers across the UK, said:
“Costs are rising and we have to try to manage that while retaining our commitment to sustainability, with an eye on fuel prices and keeping our carbon footprint under control. We have to do due diligence and ensure our suppliers are protected, as well as meeting the needs of the supermarkets in terms of cost, when bananas have hit the highest price they’ve ever been.”
In what can be a confusing area, Adrian Pryce then asked the guests to think about how they communicate their ESG and sustainability ideas to their stakeholders – their employees, the people within the communities they serve, the charities they support.
Jess Ansell, Workspace and Sustainability Director at dbfb said:
“We’ve tied our consultative process in with our ISO reporting, which provides a already-existing platform for employees to communicate how they think we do something relevant within the community. The framework is already there, so we put it to good use.”
Summing up the discussion, Adrian Pryce said:
“It’s been interesting pulling together all these views and it’ll be even more interesting to see the full report that will be produced in a few weeks’ time. In the meantime, I think everyone here should know that their time here today will definitely have an impact in the SME marketplace and they will take inspiration and learn from what you’ve said.”
To receive a full copy of the All Things Business report ESG and The Social Responsibilities of Modern Businesses, email email@example.com