ESG and J – How businesses can ensure no one is left behind in the transition to a net-zero economy
Today, the term ‘ESG’ (Environmental, Social, Governance) is common parlance between businesses and stakeholders. Protecting and restoring the planet (E), contributing to and enhancing the quality of life for society and communities (S) and ensuring a fair and robust approach to governance (G) now presents an essential framework for businesses to drive sustainable development forwards.
The Covid-19 pandemic and evolving reporting disclosures have reinforced the imperative for ESG. Recent trends highlight a focus on climate change, social value, and diversity and inclusion across all industries and sectors.
Shockingly however, a recent survey of 8,000 UK adults by Business in the Community (BITC) revealed the following headline findings:
- Over 75% did not properly understand how businesses in general are responding to the climate crisis,
- Almost two in three respondents did not trust businesses to do what they promise on climate,
- Two in five believe that the negative impact of reaching net-zero would be more harmful than the negative impact of climate change, and
- Only one in four believe that the social benefits of the transition to a more sustainable economy will be shared equally.
So, how can businesses respond to the climate crisis whilst ensuring an equitable distribution of benefits and opportunities for all?
Enter, the Just Transition
At Simply Sustainable, we believe that a Just Transition is the missing link. Businesses can no longer consider ESG without the J – a genuine consideration for justice.
Put simply, we define the Just Transition as a practice, process and an outcome of the journey to a socially inclusive net-zero economy for all. The Just Transition recognises that there are and will be winners and losers of climate change. The impacts will neither be felt equally nor fairly – those most vulnerable, marginalised, and our future generations with bear the disproportionate burdens. Factors such as socio-economic status, the lottery of birth, gender, and race present a multitude of compounding challenges.
As we transition to a low carbon future, climate action and social inclusion should no longer be viewed in isolation. By viewing both social inclusion and climate action and cohesion, business can play a key role in ensuring no one is left behind.
Effective action on climate change requires the fastest and broadest transformation of sectors and economies ever. Businesses are and will be centred at the heart of this transformation often shaped as ‘winners’ within the climate crisis. Business have the profound potential to not only deliver tangible benefits for the workforce, but for internal and external stakeholders and society at large. Implementing the just transition also presents good business sense. The practice, process and outcome allows businesses to future-proof operations by planning for, managing and optimising the operational and reputational effects of reducing emissions and increasing resource productivity. This improves oversight of transition benefits and costs, increases social support for climate action and sustainability, and ensures strong workforce and community relations.
So, how can businesses support this transformation? Here are five key actions that businesses can take to deliver the just transition:
- Conducting a deliberate approach to stakeholder engagement with due consideration for all (those marginalised, vulnerable, current and future generations) whilst ensuring voices are heard but recognised within decision-making processes;
- Embedding social inclusion into all climate action planning (considering just transition principles within TCFD assessments, embedding social inclusion into net-zero transition plans, and setting just transition-related climate targets)
- Developing robust ESG and J strategies with a genuine focus on fairness, equity and inclusivity;
- Mobilising investment and financial opportunities to those which consider the low carbon economy in tandem with principles of equity and inclusion;
- Assessing and improving the organisational role in delivering decent and green jobs, education, skills, training and re-training for all.
Whilst there is much work to be done to demonstrate that a fair and inclusive transition is possible, many businesses are already equipped with the tools to do so. In most cases, businesses don’t need to reinvent the wheel, rather shift their priorities towards truly considering justice – a mindset change in culture, behaviour and transformational delivery. By recognising the Just Transition as a practice, process and an outcome of a climate-resilient socially inclusive future – businesses can broaden their understanding of where we are going and how we are going to get there.
The Just Transition represents untold value for all. At Simply Sustainable, we can support your business to realise this value and deliver a socially just, net-zero economy for current and future generations. No one should be left behind and the ‘J’ presents the missing link.
Ellen Salter is a Senior Sustainability Consultant at Simply Sustainable. Ellen has experience for both organisations and across built environment projects both internationally and within the UK. Her expertise includes just transition route maps, carbon management and assessment, decarbonisation, and sustainability advisory.