ESG over time – a view from the Boardroom

Written by Barney Quinn, Consultant Advisor, Insoft

I come from a perspective of having been on the Board of 6 publicly listed technology companies and many private ones. The drive to ESG responsibility started many years ago initially aimed at governance and risk management. I remember over 20 years ago taking part in a board session on risk management and governance. It was hard work for those of us more used to talking about revenue, profit, and cost control. It was different. The listed company rules made it a necessity and my boards tended to update the governance and risk registers once a year in those days. The risk register became part of a listed companies DNA at that time. Today this has been expanded in public companies to where you need to report on ESG in your annual report.

The environmental and social push came later. The social responsibility drives often came from our employees and it resulted in our companies supporting local charities, Childrens teams or the CEO pet charity.  Fyi mine was Action for Children. In my view social responsibility was very important in engaging with our teams and it helped provide a very positive working culture. 

Environmental concerns entered board rooms from around 2010 and later became almost a race amongst companies to see who was the cleanest. I think there is still a long way to go on this one.

From a business perspective it has become apparent ESG responsibility is here to stay, you have ESG questionnaires within RFP documents from buyers. I remember my teams being very careful on answering them and giving practical examples. I wondered sometimes though if it was lip service from the buyers as I was never once asked by a buyer directly an ESG question.

Which brings me too today. In a recent fundraiser we had an ESG questionnaire from a well-known city institution. It had 42 questions which needed to be answered before they would invest in us. Of these questions the vast majority were about Audit, Accounts and Pay. Quite a few about the independence of the board members and only 4 on Environmental & Social. In other words, the G for Governance dominated as it did over a quarter of a century ago. Really full circle!

As we go forward in the twenties it will be interesting to see where ESG responsibility will go. My thoughts from a UK perspective are that Environmental net zero drives will become de facto. It will almost certainly end up driving many NEW investment decisions at board level as companies will fear they can’t sell new products without an environmental ok.

Social responsibility will remain as described earlier as it helps good working culture. However, I believe Governance will remain key and continue to top the list as investors and people will only deal over the long term with well run companies. 

That is why I am so pleased that the Digital Leaders 8th Impact Awards, that Insoft are sponsoring, has adopted the three themes for its 12 categories of Environment, Social and Governance. I am looking forward to seeing what tech for good initiatives, services and organisations are happening  across the UK to help business, government and charities to hit these important targets.

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