So Where Is the Corporate Sustainability Journey a Half-year Into the Dramatic Impacts of the Coronavirus?

G&A's Sustainability Highlights (08.19.2020)
Aug 20, 2020 10:35 AM ET
Newsletter

The question may be going around and answers offered up inside the corporate enterprise as the senior executives and function, business unit and other managers meet the challenges posed by the virus pandemic, related economic disruption and civil protests on a number of topics.

The Conference Board is a century-old business organization founded by corporate CEOs who were focused on “knowledge-sharing” at the beginnings of modern corporate management theories. Today, 1,200 companies are involved as members, typically with participation in sections devoted to specific topics and issue areas. These include economy, strategy & finance; ESG (including corporate citizenship and corporate governance); human capital (including diversity, equality and inclusion) …and others that we observe.

At G&A Institute we closely follow the extensive research and insights shared by the Board as part of its foundational mission – sharing knowledge. This week The Conference Board issued its survey results for the question asked of corporates: “What impact, if any, do you expect the COVID-19 crisis to have on your company’s overall sustainability program?”

If we asked our corporate colleagues that question, we could expect the answers to be all over the place. The Board did ask, and the answers were “sharply divided.” The Conference Board conducted two different surveys, one at more than 200 companies, focused on general counsel, corporate secretaries and investor relations execs; the other at 40 companies with questions asked of dedicated sustainability execs.

Top line: Three-in-ten sustainability execs expect the current health crisis to increase emphasis on their “E” and “S” efforts – while only one-in-ten of their fellow governance execs agree.

Example: responding to whether or not COVID-19 “put general sustainability efforts on temporary hold,” only 7% of sustainability executives said yes, while 19% of legal, governance and IR folks felt that way.

The short survey results are available for you in a Top Story.

Says The Conference Board staff: “This divergence of opinions reveals companies need to reach an internal consensus on the crisis’ impact on their sustainability programs and be prepared to communicate [it] in a cohesive and consistent manner.”

Inside the corporate structure people may have differing views on what is “sustainability,” what their own company’s sustainability programs are about (Strategy? Actions? Engagements? Achievements? Third Party Recognitions?) and execs may have different opinions about the real impact of the virus on the company’s operations. We are seeing reports every day now of increased productivity because people are at home and not wasting hours commuting.

And while inside the corporate enterprise there may be differences of opinion on the sustainability journey, here’s some important “outside” news from Sam Meredith at CNBC: “Sustainable investment funds just surpassed US$1 trillion for the first time.” He cited UBS research that the global public sector has been stepping up support for green projects. And, a Morningstar report that spelled out factors contributing to the record 2Q inflows to ESG mutual funds.

Adding some intelligence to the results of our reading of The Conference Board survey, Morningstar says: “…the disruption caused by the virus highlighted the importance of building sustainable and resilient business models based on multi-stakeholder considerations…”

There are no easy answers “inside” to harmonize the views of the executives responding to surveys about their company’s sustainability.

This is just the introduction of G&A's Sustainability Highlights newsletter this week. Click here to view the full issue.