Nigel Wilson

Nigel Wilson

Group Chief Executive

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ESG Notebook: six practical approaches to increasing corporate sustainability

It’s coming into ever clearer focus that reversing climate change is the defining challenge of our generation. With more money available in corporate coffers today than ever before;some US $15 trillion of which is earning nominal to negative returns. It’s my belief that we have an opportunity both to invest in solving for climate change and to get a return on that investment.

I couldn’t put it better than Professor Rebecca Henderson of Harvard Business School when she stated in a recent speech to business leaders in Brazil, sustainability is a way to drive growth and innovation, it’s a creative source for new strategies and new sources of growth, and there’s a strong business case for taking sustainability seriously. To that I’d add that it’s a cornerstone of inclusive capitalism, because it’s using the power of capital investment to benefit as many people as possible. 

What are some practical ways that businesses can start making a difference? Here are a few, and there’s always more:

  1. Less  sky Travel, more Skyping. Face-to-face digital conferencing is mature and reliable.
  2. Get familiar with the global warming trajectory. We need as an industry to develop the technical and scientific expertise in climate change to be able to lead in Green Finance.
  3. Don’t greenwash—Walk the walk. Be genuine and action-focused on climate: “Greenwash” and the sort of ESG that talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk should have no place in your purpose-led approach.
  4. Invest in established renewables. Onshore and offshore wind and solar, where the technology is proven and the assets work for your balance sheet, are an excellent investment. 
  5. Invest in transformative technologies. Some of these might include super-efficient solar Photovoltaic panels, or nuclear fusion. Electric vehicles, which are starting to replace combustion engine vehicles, will lead to the need for innovative approaches to vehicle charging infrastructure. 
  6. New buildings and retrofits alike need to be carbon-and-energy efficient. Climate change needs to remain a focus in our investments in infrastructure and housing. In the UK, for example, heating from buildings contributes a fifth of carbon emissions, so there is a challenge not only in carbon and energy-efficient newbuild, but also in retrofitting existing housing stock. 

Recognising that discussion and brainstorming are important facets of innovation and positive change, to me they gain far more credence and usefulness when they are translated into action.