Making your ESG, BAU.

Natalie Simmons, Founder & CEO Barefoot Citizens Consulting

Business as usual. That’s what BAU stands for, just in case, among the millions of acronyms doing the rounds, this one slipped by you. 

After 3 years of global pandemic, you could be excused for wondering if there is such a thing as BAU. Anxiety, lack of trust, uncertainty, unpredictability, a decline in mental health - these conditions and more, have, in the last 3 years, risen in most developed countries. And depending on who you read, Covid-19 is pegged as one of, if not the, most major causes of this riseAccording to the World Health Organisation, “As people grapple with these (Covid’s) health, social and economic impacts, mental health has been widely affected.”

“What has this got to do with ESG?” you ask. Periods of uncertainty are an opportunity for organisations to take stock of the context in which their people, customers, and stakeholders are living, and inject confidence into that context. Context is everything when forming an authentic approach to sustainable future growth.

How? 

Creating purpose-driven corporate strategies that address the issues about which people are anxious, have been shown to give companies a competitive edge. The brands people work for, shop with, invest in, and see in the media, when seen to be making a genuine difference, experience higher loyalty among all stakeholders.

Talking to friends, family, colleagues reveals there’s a lot of ‘worry’ out there. We’re worried about the numerous environmental impacts of human activity. We’re troubled by burgeoning poverty at home and abroad. Interest rate rises and the cost of living is affecting millions. We’re saddened by the conflicts in Ukraine, Rwanda, Myanmar. The tensions between nation states - Israel and Palestine, China and Taiwan, North and South Korea - plays on our minds. Is there another financial crisis looming on the horizon? Is democracy under threat? Are my clothes sourced and manufactured ethically? Are there chemicals in my dinner? The list is infinite. And it’s all fuel to the fire of uncertainty and unease in the context of our lives. 

‍With all this in mind, making sure your company ESG policies are materialising into relevant actions needs to be your focus. This is about your brand embracing a culture that is willing to change ‘business as usual’. 

‍As part of Barefoot Citizens Consulting’s approach, we survey 6 key stakeholders in and around your business, to gain a greater understanding of the unique context in which these groups operate. Internally we talk to management and employees. Externally we survey customers, your supply chain, the communities in which you operate, and shareholders.

PURPOSE must be a key focus area internally. This requires the CEO and management to be driving the vision and strategy, fundamentally leading the legacy charge. Having a confident ready answer to the question “What are we famous for?”  is essential.

YOUR PEOPLE are your most important asset. While people are the responsibility of everyone in the organisation, the chief people officer is responsible for employee wellbeing, diversity, equity and inclusion.  We can no longer limit the role of chief people officer to simply recruitment, learning and development and HR issues.  The Employee value proposition could not be more critical than it is today. 

Without YOUR CUSTOMERS, you have no business.  This is where your Chief Marketing Officer plays an important role. Today’s marketing departments are facing significant changes. While people still want the best and most aspirational product, aspirational parameters have changed. Consumers now want to align with brands who matter, who create impact, and who operate in parallel with consumers’ individual values.  Consider this: by 2025, 75% of consumers will be Millennials or Gen Z, marketing will need to strategise to keep up with the ever-changing needs of these generations.. 

The initial responsibility for SOCIETAL & ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT lies with procurement and finance. Enlightened CFOs see the value from enquiring, researching and ultimately investing sustainably.  Supply chain is one critical focus area, among many others, that can deliver solid wins for societal and environmental impact. All businesses have a responsibility to develop sustainable procurement processes and partnerships.

SHAREHOLDERS continue to look for organisations whose ESG strategies are realisings long term growth. Transparency in the governance framework, evidence that supports the idea that what a brand is saying it’s doing, it actually is doing, is critical to ensure Shareholders stay loyal. According to the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance, in their article ESG Trends to Watch in 2023,

“Investors are flocking to investments and transactions that are graded against ESG criteria—in part because comparable, or in some cases, higher investment returns globally, continue to advance the business case for ESG investing.”

The COMMUNITIES in which we operate are seeking brands who want to share in the value creation.  Whether you call it CSR, corporate shared value, social impact - this rounds out the idea of legacy - leaving people and the planet in a better shape then when we first found them.  Profit with Purpose is all about building and ensuring a long-lasting legacy.

‍Business as Usual is a journey. Authenticity in the ESG space isn’t a destination, nor is it defined by a single truth or action. It is a continuous series of decisions, supported by leadership, fused with your brand, and crucially, are in lockstep with the thoughts, attitudes, and lives of your stakeholders.

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