Business in the Community Ireland launched the findings of its research study at their Annual CEO forum on November 10th
The Annual Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI) CEO Forum took place on Thursday, November 10th, at Dublin’s Mansion House. Following a two-year hiatus, the forum brought together CEOs from Ireland’s largest companies to discuss what is needed to get us to our collective goal of a low carbon economy and a truly inclusive society.
At this year’s event, BITCI presented the results of its landmark study, Accelerating the Transformation – Towards a zero emissions, nature positive and inclusive society – a foundational piece of strategic research into the current state and future vision for sustainability among Irish businesses. The research has been undertaken to create a roadmap to accelerate change in this decisive decade.
The study comprises a ‘State of the Nation’ survey of 185 respondents across companies and financial institutions, followed by qualitative interviews with 11 global and national sustainability experts and three co-creation sessions, shaped with over 60 CEOs, practitioners, future leaders and civic society. The research provides a snapshot and insight into where companies across Ireland stand currently in terms of sustainable and inclusive business practices.
Speaking about the research project, CEO of Business in the Community Ireland Tomás Sercovich said: “The challenges we face are stark: no progress on our trajectory to avoid 1.5- degree scenarios of global warming, and growing inequality with 1 in 3 of working people living under the poverty line in Ireland. We need to move faster. Our BITCI research shows that we need to redefine the value and impact of business; we must adopt radical inclusion and transparency. We are calling on business to take decisive action to ensure the transition that we face leaves no-one behind. We must collaborate and come together – taking a COVID-like approach if we want to reverse these challenging trends.”
In defining sustainability, 84% of respondents stated, “it is the right thing to do”, whereas only 23% defined it as “it’s how we make money”
The BITCI research identified three key areas where long term, systemic change must be implemented for businesses to stay viable. These key dimensions as to how companies can accelerate change are changing the leadership mindset, reimagining business value and achieving transparency to build trust.
Said BITCI in a press release: “It is clear that collective approaches are fundamental to making meaningful change. Although we are now at a critical inflection point, there are also opportunities at this time of crises. This is a huge opportunity for Ireland to be an international leader in sustainable practices and leadership and to do so it is imperative that we embrace radical change and collaboration.”
There is a significant weight of thinking around the need for a New Leadership Mindset to accelerate the transformation. This new mindset embraces both radical inclusivity, and openness to challenging and critical voices.
The release continues: “Leaders must guide the development of a sustainable culture and governance within an organisation but, those who adopt this new mindset will require resilience and foresight, and what the co-creation sessions identified as ‘Communities of Courage’ both in their own organisations and externally.”
Thinking about the current economic situation, just over 6 in 10 (61%) organisations surveyed agree that “Without proper support organisations will be forced to prioritise survival over meeting sustainability goals”.
According to the survey, the Reimagination of Business Value is required – what stance will Irish business take to accelerate the transformation? Business value needs to be redefined beyond profit to address the impact it has on the environment and on society. Some of the ideas generated during the research include a ‘cap on profit’ whereby profit over an agreed level would be reinvested into sustainability initiatives and linking bonuses to ESG performance. The co-creation sessions raised the question – is it time to have Chief Value Officers?
46% of respondents stated their organisation would sacrifice profit for the environment.
And finally, Transparency for Trust and Impact requires that sustainability reporting be treated as critically important to the business and must happen in parallel with financial reporting. There is a call to embrace a mindset of radical transparency in laying out objectives and roadmaps and reporting openly on progress. Greater understanding of ESG requirements at senior levels and of the rigour required in public disclosures is needed. There is recognition that sustainability reporting will be significantly impacted by transparency initiatives such as the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, which will move sustainability reporting to a more equal footing with traditional financial reporting.
At the Future Leaders co-creation session conducted as part of the research, plenty of innovative and exciting thoughts were aired, especially the need for a change in the culture of business and how we look at sustainability. Future Leaders are conscious that not everyone in broader society is engaged in the conversation and we need to ensure that action in sustainability is not seen as the domain of the privileged. Consultation with stakeholder groups and those who are ‘not at the table’ was a priority for many.
It was also suggested that we should treat sustainability in the same way we treated the response to COVID – a fast tracked, global action plan needs to be put in place to make sure that we stay on course and reach our societal and environmental targets before it’s too late. Leaders need to ‘bet on the transition’.
This research was made possible with the support of nine BITCI member companies: Abbott, BT Ireland, Gas Networks Ireland, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Musgrave, Permanent TSB, KBC Bank Ireland and Veolia. Businesses who have received the Business Working Responsibly Mark for 2022 will also be recognised at Thursday’s forum. Established in 2010, ‘The Mark’ is the leading standard for sustainability that fosters a culture of continuous improvement, ongoing accountability and leadership.
Business in the Community Ireland is a non-profit movement for change in business.