Authenticity, Purpose and Transparency Must Be at the Center of Your Sustainability Strategy
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Mounting pressure to advance transparency in the sustainability arena is leading many ESG leaders across the globe to take short cuts.
That's according to Catherine McKenna, chair of a special United Nations group inspecting the integrity of net-zero commitments from non-state entities who said in November at COP27 that, "too many of these net-zero pledges are little more than empty slogans and hype."
As WWT's ESG senior executive, I can empathize with those trying their best to make it work but agree with McKenna that we must keep our eye on the prize. Promises without commitment will not achieve what is needed for our planet.
ESG is quickly becoming a beef stew of issues and standards — the term serves as an umbrella for environmental, social and corporate governance issues that each deserve serious attention on their own merit but are quite distinct from one another — making it hard for stakeholders to gauge progress. And the standards are just as ambiguous.
As stated in the UN group's report, "…the criteria and benchmarks for these net-zero commitments have varying levels of rigor and loopholes wide enough to drive a diesel truck through."
As talent and capital follow sustainable business models, falling behind only risks intensifying the pressure to make commitments and show progress.
But now is not the time to paint rosy pictures and adopt catchy slogans.
The task of attaining net-zero carbon emissions is a massive change that cannot be accomplished by a single person, organization or even industry. Trusted partnerships will be integral to all our success, and we can only achieve meaningful progress if we are transparent and honest with one another about the part we play, what we can control, what we need from others, and where we can help.
Together, we must move forward with purpose and gain stakeholder trust to create momentum and drive needed outcomes.
WWT's ESG reporting pre-2014 was limited and based almost entirely on customer requirements downstream. The reactionary approach worked from a compliance perspective but did little to truly communicate WWT's commitment and purpose, which was driven by our culture of doing the right thing and giving back. We needed to adopt a more proactive strategy that engaged all facets of our business and our stakeholders. We needed to tell our story.
WWT's story is anchored by our mission to be a profitable growth company that is also a great place to work for all. This vision, which starts with our founders, Dave Steward and Jim Kavanaugh, has long guided us in our culture of diversity and inclusion. As we leaned into our story, we shifted from a legacy compliance strategy to a purpose-led strategy that strives to integrate ESG into every facet of the business. Through this strategy shift we are creating a culture of trust and engagement, sparking innovation and creativity and mobilizing our stakeholders around shared goals.
To be authentic, we also recognized the need to set realistic, science-based goals.
With purpose and authenticity as our guiding forces, we are creating a framework that focuses on what we can control — a clearer lens for where we can make a difference — and crisper sustainability targets.
Today, we align with the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), and are working with SBTi to establish near term goals for the reduction of our Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030, which is setting us up to reach our long-term commitment of net-zero across our global operations by 2050.
The concept of ESG has been around for decades, with many of its core tenets dating back even further. But ESG, as we know it today, has become a way of measuring accountability that's more specific and high stakes than in the past.
ESG reporting is arguably undergoing its biggest stress test since the concept was first coined in 2005, and demands for transparency will only grow as regulators, watchdogs, customers and others to provide complex and detailed evidence of progress.
As we help our companies develop their ESG strategies, we must always ask, when push comes to shove, what is our basic arithmetic? Do our numbers add up? Are we walking the talk? The most important thing is to stay organized and consistent with your data collection and reporting and create a process that ensures your organization is internally held accountable for meeting targets.
For a more comprehensive guide on how to increase transparency, you can find specific recommendations from the UN High-Level Expert Group in this report.
And in the spirit of transparency, a full list of our ESG reports and policies can be found here.
Industry alone cannot solve the ESG puzzle. Reaching net zero will require action at the governmental level to spur investment in clean energy and technology, while also establishing a set of clear standards that creates a level playing field.
Technology also has a role to play, too. ESG leaders have a chance to seize advancements in cloud computing and AI to reduce emissions via operational efficiency and track, manage and measure their data consistently.
For those at the start of their ESG journey, reaching net zero may seem like a daunting task – no doubt it is. We must not let perfection be the enemy of progress. Look for incremental wins, stay true to purpose, be honest and transparent about your capabilities, forge partnerships within and across industry.
Together we can create the momentum to create a more sustainable future.