Sustainability accelerates up the corporate affairs agenda
Our latest Watson Helsby FTSE100 Group Corporate Affairs/Communications Director survey (to be launched in March) confirms that Sustainability is a bigger responsibility in more corporate affairs/comms functions.
Four developments stood out:
1. The speed with which it has accelerated up the CEO and executive board agenda. This is evidenced by the fact that over 60% of interviewees reported that it had become a much bigger and more time consuming part of their role, as demonstrated by the following quotes:
“It has been about 85% of my workload over recent months”.
“The last three months have been taken up producing content and narrative for ESG roadshows”.
“Our key drivers of reputation sit in this area. It’s pretty well constant now.”
One experienced director, who has always worked in companies where sustainability has been a key driver of reputation and license to operate, observed that.
“It has accelerated more in the previous two years than in the previous fifteen”.
2. The corporate comms/affairs function (mainly affairs) now has responsibility for sustainability in 47% of FTSE100s (not the technical and delivery aspect which tends to sit operations or manufacturing). This figure grew year on year since a number of corporate affair directors have been given responsibility for sustainability by their CEO during this past year.
3. The CSR title is almost non-existent now and even the corporate responsibility (CR) title is fast disappearing. Head of Sustainability is now the most widely used role title, but other titles we identified include: (Head of) Responsible Business; Society, Purpose and Sustainability; Sustainability and Transparency. Sustainability is also sometimes integrated with Government Relations into a combined team.
4. Increased interaction with the Board based on the perceived value of the insight and relationships of the function, particularly in the context of ESG/sustainability issues. Boards are under pressure by investors to demonstrate stewardship, and therefore knowledge, of so many more areas that are relevant to the corporate affairs world, hence the increased dialogue and interaction.
The ‘bringing the outside world in’ (and helping make sense of it) dimension of the role has helped in this regard, as has the broader stakeholder perspective and insight that resides within the function. Certain members of the Board want more access to this.
“We now have to report to the Board on how the company develops better outcomes for all stakeholders. That is fairly new”.
It is difficult to see this not continuing since there are strong societal forces behind it. The survey confirms, as do recent conversations with clients, that it is leading to a complete rethink of what the Head of Sustainability and their team should deliver as well as the profile of the leader.
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