Each generation of business leaders confronts a new set of opportunities and challenges, and sustainability and ESG is undoubtedly at the top of this generation’s.
The big challenge is that our economic models and financial theory were all developed in the age of abundant natural resources.
The global sustainability challenges or issues we face are simply outcomes of the way we are living unsustainably.
The scientific consensus is clear. The world has a substantial carbon emissions problem resulting from human activities since the industrial revolution in the 1800s when we started burning fossil fuel.
Scientists have warned that if we don’t limit the rise to 1.5 degrees Celcius there will be catastrophic consequences for human life and the planet.
So while all social, environmental and economic issues are equally important, climate change presents the biggest challenge to humanity.
What is changing today is that we are not just thinking about the physical impacts – the extreme weather events, floods, rising sea levels, and wildfires.
We also need to think about the social impacts such as involuntary migration due to heat or scarcity of food or water, increased health issues (such as the pandemic) and also the real economic implications as we seek to decarbonise our economies at an epic scale and how that will result in policy, market, tech and reputational changes that will impact businesses in a genuine way.
However, as a planet, we have achieved unlikely goals before – most people with HIV today can expect to have good health and to live long lives – the hole in the ozone layer continues to shrink since CFCs were banned in the 80s. We can do hard things when we get together.
Importantly, there is a lot of international policy consensus on how to tackle these issues
So why is business embracing sustainability? In short – for ‘profit purpose and survival’.
Today’s companies recognise that the world is changing, and they need to adapt to stay relevant and stay in business.
They realise that the sustainability agenda is about business risk and business opportunity.
Sustainability will continue to evolve at pace – and companies need to be ready to go with it. That’s why it’s often referred to as a journey.
Businesses are facing increasing pressure to demonstrate that they play a part in shaping a more sustainable future, especially in light of COVID-19, the climate crisis, and rising social inequality.
In recent years, there has been a growing recognition that sustainability-related risks and opportunities are financially material and can influence profitability and long-term value in significant ways.
Laura Heuston (above) outlines why companies should develop a clearer sense of what sustainability means to them and what directors can do to oversee and report on sustainability effectively.
A chartered accountant and tax consultant, Laura Heuston has spent most of her career working with corporates and asset managers in renewable energy and energy efficiency finance, advising on transaction structures for fundraising and M&A transactions.
She has since pivoted to focus entirely on sustainable finance, a broad topic increasingly on the agenda of policymakers, regulators, investors and financial services firms across investment, banking and insurance.
A leading expert in her field, she has in-depth knowledge of the global sustainable finance landscape. She advises, speaks and writes on a broad range of sustainable business and finance topics, with a particular specialism in EU sustainable finance policy, ESG, climate-related financial risk and opportunity, responsible investment and energy efficiency finance.
Laura has previously worked with KPMG, Airtricity, and Sustainable Nation Ireland.