How businesses can begin their ESG journey


2 Feb 2022

Image: © Mikael Damkier/Stock.adobe.com

Speed Fibre Group’s Claire Murphy says businesses need to take ‘real and imminent’ action in order to have a meaningful environmental impact.

For organisations that have yet to embark on an environmental, social and governance (ESG) journey, they need to wake up to their fiduciary duties and understand their responsibilities and role in making the climate crisis personal to them.

They need to be making a commitment to be part of this smart future before the whole world is affected.

Future Human

One only needs to look to COP26 where the UN’s global community were convening to respond to the urgent warning that we are facing a “code red for humanity”, and the number of pledges made before and after COP26, to realise that we are still a long way away from where we need to be in 2030.

Simply put, real and imminent action is required of businesses. Initiatives such as putting in place recycling bins and electric charging points in offices, while helpful, won’t make a dent on what businesses really need to do to make a positive and meaningful impact when it comes to ESG. It is more complex than that.

‘As more businesses engage in voluntary reporting, ESG will become a normalised strategic imperative’

However I am filled with hope as, looking back at 2021, we witnessed a global shift in sustainability adoption across industries.

That was testament to the introduction of climate policies and financial regulations, most notably sustainable finance disclosure regulations on this side of the globe, and the announcement that the UK will mandate climate-related disclosure requirements for large businesses in Q2 of this year.

This is welcomed as it widens the net of stakeholders who are responsible for ESG. However, to increase the rate of adoption, these regulations and policies need to cascade to SMEs with some thought around turnover requirements and disclosure requirements depending on the size of the organisation so to not make it onerous.

In the meantime, voluntary reporting standards such as the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) play a fundamental role in giving organisations a true understanding of their ESG performance.

My hope is that as more businesses engage in voluntary reporting, ESG will become a normalised strategic imperative.

To facilitate a focus on ESG policies, it’s important to appoint an individual with responsibility to lead and support the ESG agenda in the business and make it an imperative for the entire operation.

Environmental

From an environmental perspective, it’s important to know that we all have a responsibility to the environment that goes beyond our legal and regulatory commitments.

Unless global heating is kept to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we will experience severe climate-related weather events across the globe. As a result, we all play a part in reducing the world’s carbon emissions by 2030.

At all stages of activities, whether it’s at the development or operational stage, companies should assess how to address material environmental issues such as reducing operational and embodied carbon emissions, increasing the use of renewables, raising energy efficiency, protecting biodiversity and natural habitats, or responsibly decommissioning equipment or disposing of waste.

Social

From a social perspective, the responsible treatment of stakeholders, both internal and external, is intrinsic to the operations of any business.

Telecom networks are set to continue to be a driving force behind Ireland’s economy. As such, we are at the forefront of how society can adapt and change working lifestyles to be more sustainable, particularly around enabling people to work from home, which has a knock-on effect in strengthening the social fabric of our communities in regional and rural Ireland.

It’s also important to provide a working environment in which the safety of employees and contractors are paramount. During 2021, Speed Fibre Group engaged with its team and announced a commitment to hybrid working for our employees to help create a supportive environment in which our employees can develop and thrive.

This decision reduces commuting travel and promotes the health and wellbeing of the team. Over the coming months we will aim to quantify the impact of this on our collective carbon footprint while also implementing other initiatives such as carpooling and electric car chargers.

Governance

From a governance perspective, key areas of focus should be on risk management, stakeholder engagement and reporting, as well as leadership.

It’s important the appropriate structures are in place in any business so that you can focus on the right things, be transparent in everything you do and are held accountable by audit and risk committees and the board.

Benchmarking

It’s also important that your efforts are benchmarked by an independent, well-recognised global leader in ESG rating. As a telecom infrastructure business, Speed Fibre Group chose to voluntarily report its efforts to GRESB, an internationally recognised rating agency.

By doing this, it gave us a framework to ensure best-in-class practices were adopted at an environmental, social and governance level, and enabled us to set clear KPIs, transparently report and benchmark our efforts to help us understand how we can make further progress.

So, my advice when it comes to ESG is to put it firmly on your agenda now and make it actionable. We can only collectively make a difference to the environmental and social fabric of our society if we all engage in sustainable practices together.

By Claire Murphy

Claire Murphy is group general counsel and company secretary, and head of shared services at Speed Fibre Group.

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