Sustainability was a focus at Davos, but Boardroom leadership is now required to have a real impact

Sustainability was a focus at Davos, but Boardroom leadership is now required to have a real impact

You don’t have to look too far to see that we have a real climate crisis in the world. The bush fires in Australia, the average rise in world temperatures, the Artic, constant flooding in the UK, more and more storms hitting the west coast of Ireland and so on. 

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore when speaking at Davos “compared the climatic crisis to historic events like the 9/11 terrorist attacks”

He said the crisis was “way worse” than many realize and intensifying “way faster” than people appreciated and described it as a “challenge to our moral imagination.”

Indeed many of the Chairs and CEO’s who attended Davos 2020 have long held the notion that “the business of business is business”. The conversation this year focused on purpose beyond profit.  This notion had already been teed up by the US based Business Roundtable press release in August 2019, which proposed that a company has a broader responsibility to society, which can be better served if it considers all stakeholders in its business decisions not just the shareholders

This broader focus by Business Roundtable signatories recognises the belated reality that millennials amongst others, are more sophisticated in what they want from the world of work than many companies who want to employ them realise.

In recent a Gallup poll [Gallup Millennial Report], it finds that workers have 12 basic needs for workplace engagement. 

One of these is that “millennials don’t just work for a pay check — they want a purpose”. This is reflected in other studies as well.

This suggests that millennials and many others are more likely to work for organisations that actually care about the planet.  

On the positive side,  many of the CEO’s of the world’s largest companies at Davos expressed support for publishing a core set of metrics and disclosures in their annual reports on the non-financial aspects of business performance such as greenhouse gas emissions and strategies for, diversity, employee health and well-being and other factors that are generally framed as Environmental, Social and Government (ESG) topics.  But support needs to be converted into action.

This is a start but is not enough.  Any companies that haven’t already woken up and smelled the coffee at this stage are in for a shock, as customers, shareholders and stakeholders start to increasingly demand action on sustainability. And it needs to be visible and not tucked away in an annual report.

Many business leaders now accept that their companies activities are in large part the problem, and therefore they are part of the solution.

Unless and until sustainability is on the board room agenda and woven into a companies strategies, then many of us including the millennials will be sceptical.

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David W Duffy  

E: dwduffy@governance-company.com

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