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Executing on ESG: Takeaways from the WEF Sustainable Development Impact Summit

Executing on ESG: Takeaways from the WEF Sustainable Development Impact Summit

With less than a decade left to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, how can individuals and organisations act to influence change in a meaningful, businesses-focused way?

Questions, discussions and answers that address this ubiquitous topic unfolded at the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit (SDIS) from 20—23 September 2021. Hosted alongside the United Nations General Assembly, the event brought together global leaders from diverse sectors, expertise and locations.  

Both speaking at and sitting in on the summit’s sessions uncovered several points for inspiration. PALO IT holds its own unique market position as tech impact innovation consultancy and Agile software development company, a WEF New Champion and a B Corporation, but we’re finding now more than ever that there are likeminded partners in the ESG realm that are embracing transformative strategies and innovative solutions that can change the state of our market and our world. 

There were a few actionable takeaways that I believe any business could learn from. 

  1. Explain your vision

    As decision makers, it’s imperative to make this a priority. Particularly, educating our teams on how plans tie back to the Paris Climate Accords. The session ‘Demystifying Net Zero: Towards a Playbook for Action’ saw every speaker align on this crucial point. 
    As business leaders, we cannot expect our team to magically have knowledge pertaining to climate change mitigation, adaptation and finance. Step one is introducing this to your employees and your ecosystems (think training, or even certification). Then and only then can you take meaningful action. 
  2. Start to measure your GHG (greenhouse gas) footprint

    When it comes to metrics, you can start by setting a reasonable target, aligned with SBTI (science-based target indicators).
    Commitments to tackling climate change are accelerating everywhere in society, with net zero pledges from businesses, cities and governments doubling in the last year. This goal actually moves your organisation to be accountable for its actions. Greenwashing is a very real issue in the ESG realm, and this step forward ensures we’re walking the walk, rather that just talking the talk. 
  3. Collaborate with your peers

    This point was on full display at the summit, as I felt communities coming together on a range of topics, particularly at the session ‘Navigating the path to Net Zero’. Leaders need to work hand in hand across markets, and across borders, to share and enact know-how.  
    No one is an expert on everything. Events like SDIS give businesses the opportunity to find trusted, external support for putting plans into action. There are many organisations who are already quite mature on the subject of net zero. These teams can support those new to the field, and offer valuable advice on how to set targets and progress. For those who want to dig deeper into the subject of net zero, the WEF Report on the matter is another helpful reference. 
  4. Interact with customers, investors and employees

    A necessity to get continuous feedback on your goals. If you’re setting objectives for five, ten, 30 years in the future, it’s unreasonable to think these targets won’t shift over time.  
    Just look at the last two years, and how the pandemic has created struggle, but also innovation and promising approaches to accelerate recovery. This is simply an Agile way of working. We must move, change and adapt according to our business, our community and our world’s needs. 
  5. Invest! 

    The session, ‘Financing a Net Zero Future’ offered some revelations on this point. Like any transaction, there’s a return on investing in ESG, but there needs to be an initial move made if you hope to make breakthroughs. Strategies and roadmaps are all well and good, but like anything in the business realm, eventually, we need to get down to dollars and cents.  
    According to a WEF report, accelerating the transition to net-zero and averting a climate catastrophe will require about US$50 trillion of incremental investments over the next 30-40 years. This isn’t a risk, but a tremendous opportunity, and the time to invest is now. 

Spotlight on SMEs 

If these goals initially seem overwhelming, you’re not alone. 90% of all enterprises can be classified as small to medium enterprises, and we can’t expect to individually move mountains overnight. We need to take a measured approach, that applies to our distinct business model and doesn’t try to tackle every macro issue the world is facing at once. 

PALO IT is itself an SME, and I was happy to tell our story, and explain our own approach to sustainable development, at the SDIS panel discussion ‘Future Readiness of SMEs’. Joined by Ariel de FauconbergElizabeth RossielloAkshay Shah and Francisco Betti, it was a pleasure bouncing ideas back and forth on how we as businesses can drive widespread positive social, environmental and economic change. 

A few key takeaways from the conversation: 

  1. Embrace your position

    SMEs have a tremendous opportunity right now to become game-changing actors in the much-needed area of transformation. Being an SME is an immediate advantage in that you can seamlessly and beneficially adopt Agile ways of working, adapt to change, and address the urgency of climate change.  
    As both the buyers and suppliers of big corporations, and actors in the real economy, we have the ability to take actions that ripple throughout our ecosystems. Again, we want to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, and SMEs are primed to make that happen. 
  2. Take advantage of your capacity to leapfrog

    There is a necessity now, even a prerequisite, to accelerate digital transformation within SMEs. Innovative technologies, coupled with an Agile mindset, allow us to rapidly adapt to changing circumstances, and make huge progress that, without transformation, would otherwise not be possible. We can tackle societal and environmental challenges by leveraging emerging tech, to the benefit of both our organisations and our world. 
  3. Create resilient growth

    In the face of the pandemic, we as leaders at SMEs must ask ourselves, how can we expand in ways that enhance the world's ability to face future issues head on? Adopting a sustainable, then regenerative, business model gives us the ability to look beyond profit for guidance in business growth. Having this strategy ensures the long-term resilience of our organisations.  
    At PALO IT, our financial independence, our distributed model and—again—our Agile organisational model has furthered our ability to weather storms, and find opportunities for improvement in otherwise turbulent waters. 

Global estimates put the contribution of SMEs to GDP as high as 70%, so we collectively have the capacity to make unbelievable progress. 

Any company that’s facing our current state of affairs has a responsibility to think about the impact they’re having, and to act on it. Consumers, communities, and the world as a whole are looking for companies that are ethical and accountable for their actions. Simply put, ESG-focused companies are becoming a new norm, and we’re happy to be influencing that trend.  

For a more detailed look at PALO IT’s approach to sustainable business, product and service transformation, check out our free Crash Course in Impact Design, or contact us anytime to learn more.

Stanislas Bocquet
Stanislas Bocquet

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