Leading with Your VALUES to Invest in ESG
Good morning, everyone.
It is my pleasure to welcome you to our inaugural Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Conference.
I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to all the companies that have partnered with us on this very important initiative, and to all of the stakeholders and participants who are here today.
I am delighted to see such a full room because it tells me that we all share a similar commitment and collective responsibility to building sustainable businesses that promote fairness, transparency, and good governance.
Now, I am not going to get into all the intricacies and nuances of ESG with you this morning because we have brought together a number of highly qualified local, regional, and international experts who are more than capable of explaining the “ins and outs” and “how to’s” of ESG over the next two days.
What I really want to do today is to get to the heart of the issue.
You have heard us say we want to build a better and brighter future for our country.
In simple terms, this refers to improving the quality of life for citizens, driving a healthy economy, and protecting our environment. To us, that comes from advancing advocacy measures on issues such as reducing our carbon footprint; encouraging diversity and inclusion; building human capacity; promoting transparency and good governance - and the list goes on.
For businesses, really this comes down to our core values and principles. What do we really believe in? And how much of our money are we willing to invest in support of these beliefs and are we prepared to match our actions with what we say we stand for?
I know every person here represents an organization that has both a mission and vision statement that says something about who you are, what you stand for, and where you are going.
I want you to really pay attention to this as we explore the topic of ESG over the next couple of days. Because when we speak about investing in ESG, we are really asking you to invest in those core values.
That's the major takeaway I want everyone to have from this conference. If you don't gain any new insights or if you don’t agree with some of the things you hear over the next two days, I want you to leave here asking yourself these questions: What are my core values? And am I willing to stand up and face the consequences good and bad, for investing in those values?
That’s how we can take ESG from being just the latest buzzword in business and change it into the essence of who we are, the ethos of our companies. What is the legacy we want to build with our businesses? What is the blueprint we hope to leave behind that distinguishes who we are and what we stand for?
It can't be that our sole purpose for conducting business is centered only on maximizing profits. Now clearly this is a necessity for business survival, but we must see doing business as something more. Hopefully, it has something to do with creating value for people and for the planet.
Now today we see so many companies around the world investing in ESG because our world today has undergone a massive transformation. Global crises such as the pandemic, climate change, and rising social inequalities have brought many challenges but it has also changed our perspectives on many things.
They’ve shown us that in times of global fear, people’s priorities change, and they will support companies that are willing to invest more in their well-being.
In fact, even before these events, employees have expected more from their employers and from the role of business in society. ESG goals have been brought to the forefront with the majority of today's workforce – millennials and GenZ – they have more social consciousness, citing they value companies that actively endorse DEI policies, climate change initiatives, transparency and have sustainable business practices that positively impact social change.
SOCIAL IMPACT OF ESG INVESTMENTS
Social changes will see companies investing in ESG to better manage their relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where they operate.
Companies would be building meaningful social investment programs, making lasting changes in their communities and country, not only because this is the expectation of today’s stakeholders, or that it makes good business sense, but also because it is the right thing to do.
They would also be empowering and investing in today’s and tomorrow’s leaders by equipping their employees with the skills, confidence, and support they need to succeed and grow, including ensuring that persons from underrepresented groups develop the skills needed to advance into leadership positions. And of course, working to improve DEI in all aspects of their business.
Very critically, and an area that is often overlooked, is the huge opportunity that exists for companies to invest in their supply chains, whether it be through local supplier development, setting standards for ethical conduct, demanding responsible labour practices including the requisite attention to health and safety in the workplace or mandating environmental commitments as a requirement for doing business.
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF ESG INVESTMENTS
Now let’s look at the environmental factors.
As a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), we know that Trinidad and Tobago is highly vulnerable to the potential impacts of climate change as evidenced by the high economic cost arising out of increased flooding, hillside erosion, and loss of coastal habitats.
These factors present enough of a reason for the private sector to invest in ESG and support the global call for low-carbon transition and the Net Zero target by 2050, or sooner.
We should not have to wait on regulations and policies to ensure compliance although we do need an established framework that sets appropriate guidelines to assist companies in managing the transition to a greener company.
The future will see us achieving decarbonization by changing all aspects of the economy – from how energy is generated, and how we produce and deliver goods and services, to how lands are managed.
We will transform our electrical, transport, and industry sectors by decreasing emissions and replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.
Financial institutions will consider the likely impacts of climate events and pursue energy efficiency in all aspects of their operations, especially mobilizing capital for green and low-carbon investments in the broader context of environmentally sustainable development.
GOVERNANCE IMPACT ON ESG INVESTING
Now, none of this would be possible if we aren’t addressing our governance frameworks.
Stakeholders want to know if they can trust our companies and the decisions we make behind closed doors.
For the corporate governance aspects of ESG to be successful, we must be transparent with the public. Therefore, it will be a requirement for companies to disclose information such as their carbon footprint, pay equality, and ensure that there is no corruption within their operations so that everyone is doing things appropriately and ethically.
All of this starts with a strong board, leadership team, and accountability structure. We must make sure that boards are made up of diverse members and independent voices who understand ESG.
Also, strong risk management policies and practices should be implemented and overseen by experienced, empowered, and accountable leaders.
All ESG documents and data must be protected, kept up-to-date, and easily discoverable in accordance with appropriate access permissions and controls. Finally, our ESG reporting strategy and governance approach should be closely tied to our communications strategy to share and communicate ESG results and outcomes to our stakeholders.
IMPACT OF ESG INVESTMENT
Globally, we already see the impact of ESG investment with large corporations making substantial commitments to minimizing their environmental impacts and instilling greater transparency in their reporting.
Right here, businesses locally are also getting involved. Companies operating in the energy sector have realigned their business objectives to support the energy transition by launching various initiatives to develop the renewable energy sector, create energy efficiency in their businesses, and promote carbon reduction in the country.
Also, major conglomerates have launched waste reduction campaigns to support the green initiative, set targets for the inclusion of independent directors on their boards, and embrace DEI policies as part of their governance and social responsibility.
Finally, we have witnessed manufacturing companies introducing low-carbon products, and financial services investing in ESG for example by creating a new office of sustainability in their operations.
A lot is happening, and I am grateful for the work that is being done but as we begin our ESG journey, we will need regulations and public policies to provide proper oversight and strategic direction so that everyone is playing by the same rules.
That’s precisely why we took on ESG as an initiative at AMCHAM T&T with our talented and hardworking committee. We recognize the importance of developing a sustainable approach to economic growth and we believe that ESG provides a framework within which we can all take a hard look at our businesses and identify both risks and opportunities, solve big problems, create value, and grow and transform the economies of the region. Through the work of our ESG committee, we will continue to provide many important initiatives and engagements such as this conference and future workshops to promote ESG awareness and implementation in our country.
The ESG Committee has been working assiduously since they were formed, not only on the initiatives Nirad mentioned but also on a baseline survey that will tell us where the private sector is on its ESG journey. We will be presenting the preliminary results of this survey later today. Also, the committee has been doing work on sustainable finance which will be elaborated on further in the Leadership workshop tomorrow. I hope you join us for these sessions and workshops.
So, as I close, I hope the approach you take in your ESG journey is rooted in the core values that determine the legacy you want to build for your companies and organizations. Ensure that the core values of your business are in congruence with who you are and what you do. Remember, your publics knows you best. If your actions are inauthentic, and ESG becomes just a checklist item, a PR gimmick, or a profit move, then your people will see right through this, and the outcomes will not be in your favor.
Ultimately, the goal is not to have special rules for ESG but to have ESG become the norm of doing business in today’s world.
Let the principles of fairness, trust, loyalty, transparency, and ethics be your north star in every decision you make.
I do hope you enjoy today's conference, and that our speakers will inspire you to create the positive changes we need to support our people and planet for our collective future success.
Leading with Your VALUES to Invest in ESG