Welcome to my website and occasional blog. I’m Mike Tuffrey – after a varied career, I’m now active as a non-executive director and adviser on business, government and sustainability. Based in London, I’ve combined work across all three sectors over the last 30+ years – which makes me a ‘tri-sector athlete’, or so I’m reliably informed.
My focus is how business, government and civil society can work more effectively together to bring better outcomes for all… prosperity, health, well-being, both today and for my children’s generation, particularly in our big cities now half the world is urbanised.
Literally and metaphorically, we are indeed all ‘in it together’. Click on This blog for more about my approach and on About Mike for details of my various activities. Follow the links to the organisations and partners I work with. Then please do get in contact if you’d like to collaborate.
This month we’re taking a timely look at the implications of current economic headwinds on ambitions for responsible and sustainable business.
Timely not least because the UK government is citing the same concerns, as it rows back on the previously committed net zero timetable, and on strategic infrastructure investment. Those of us with long political memories will recall it was exactly a decade ago when another prime minister reportedly ordered aides to “get rid of all the green crap” from energy bills. Plus ça change.
The reality for many today is a squeeze on living standards, sharply higher fuel costs, increased unemployment and reductions in the public services they rely on. Meanwhile higher interest rates don’t just hit householders with mortgages, they slow investment by business and prompt re-examination of growth plans.
This month we’re looking at how social and environmental factors can align and reinforce each other. Such win-win outcomes have long been at the heart of the sustainability and responsible business agendas – the proposition that it’s not a binary choice between profit on the one hand and people and planet on the other; on the contrary, getting the latter right can drive successful, enduring businesses.
We have a practical example of this in a case study from EDP, the integrated energy utility with major markets in Portugal, Spain and Brazil. It is tackling access and inclusion, supporting communities affected by closed thermal power stations, and promoting efficiency in use, not just switching supply sources to renewables.
Our focus this month is on human and labour rights – earlier this year our forward-looking Actions for Business report anticipated growing interest in the topic. This has proved timely, given the evident challenges in switching to a “green tech” future at the speed governments say they want.
A case in point is accessing essential metals and minerals in the volumes implied in transition plans: we report on the labour rights issues in mining for cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On the wider human rights agenda, our guest contributor is scathing about how few companies have gone beyond platitudes, to the extent of examining their business models – the result being that soft expectations among stakeholders are turning in hard law regulations by governments (such as the coming EU due diligence directive). In response, my colleagues offer a four-step approach for practitioners wanting to get a grip on this agenda.
We take a look at another of our big trends this month – deglobalisation and the implications for supply chains. The topic first came to prominence during the pandemic; now mounting geopolitical instability and superpower rivalry make it even more pressing.
The starting point, however, is to recognise that the global economy is and will remain massively interconnected. Progress on business responsibility and sustainability therefore depends crucially on how extended supply chains are managed, from raw materials, through manufactured goods, to business services. That’s why the European Union is moving forward with its plans to mandate a ‘due diligence’ approach on such issues as forced labour and biodiversity loss. Our briefing this month explains what’s involved and when you need to take action, especially if you are in a high-risk sector such as textiles, food, or metals and minerals.
This month we look at climate solutions and how to go beyond simplistic “net zero” rhetoric, at a time when public scrutiny of green marketing is escalating. In the US, the Federal Trade Commission is extending public comment for its Green Guide review, while in the UK the Advertising Standards Authority was last week reported to be toughening up its act too.
One thing is for sure – simply buying carbon offsets is no longer the get-out-of-jail-free card it was once seen as. However, as my colleagues explain, mitigation does still have a role to play, if done right. Given how far we are off achieving net-zero targets, that is welcome news.
The key is to be directly involved in genuine reduction projects, and our guest contributor this month sets out a useful five-step plan for doing that authentically.
Our topic this month is ESG Backlash, the second of the themes for the year we identified in our Actions for Business Report 2023.
That backlash is coming from two directions, not one. The first source is noisy and grabbing the headlines. It originates in the US political and culture wars, now being echoed on this side of the Atlantic. The second, more thoughtful, source is not external opponents but insiders, those in the sustainability movement worried both about lack of ambition and underperformance, and about overreach, aka greenwashing.
Concern about overclaiming is not restricted to company behaviour. Governments are implicated too, with the UN Secretary-General describing COP climate change targets as having “loopholes wide enough to drive a diesel truck through”. Whatever the aspect, sustainability remains firmly in the spotlight.
Despite the seeming ubiquity of the term ESG, understanding of one of its key components remains sketchy.
Let’s be frank. For many in the investment management world, S means snooze when it comes to ESG. They’ve more pressing concerns – like pandemic-induced crashes in value or exceptional volatility from the no-deal Brexit cliff-hanger – than to be worried about the soft stuff (as others might define the S).
Anyway, they might think, we understand the E, the environment is mainstream now. Governments are in the driving seat, literally, phasing out the internal combustion engine in less than a decade. Now that’s a big deal, when cars have dominated our lives, clogged our streets and driven economic growth for more than a century. In the UK alone 990,000 people earn their living in the automotive sector according to the SMMT. And maybe there’s an upside to this E. Last year $250 billion worth of green bonds were issued worldwide, linking borrowing to decarbonising the economy and creating new jobs in growth sectors. Some are predicting that will grow to $1 trillion by next year and the UK government is getting in on the act. That’s a serious lot of noughts to win a slice of.
In the middle of the global pandemic, my colleagues and I at Corporate Citizenship took a fresh look out how to conduct an effective process to discern the most important issues facing companies in their sustainability agenda.
2020 was a year of seismic events that had fundamentally changed the business landscape. Never had global challenges – including climate change, cyber risks, Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement – affected so many businesses and sectors, as quickly, and as deeply.
In an hour long webinar, we explored the implications of these challenges for businesses and how companies should re-prioritise their material risks and opportunities. It began with experienced consultants Rupali Patni and Katie Vrylandt sharing their thoughts on how the events of 2020 were shaping the environmental, social and governance (ESG) landscape; the changing views and expectations of key stakeholders and how business is responding.
At about 40 mins in, I joined my Corporate Citizenship colleagues, Amanda Jordan and Peter Truesdale, to discuss the implications and to respond to questions from the audience. View the session from here: https://corporate-citizenship.com/webinars/materiality-2020-time-to-hit-the-reset-button/
“It’s all about the money, isn’t it?” That’s what the CFO of a French conglomerate said to me last week. Phrased as a question, he actually meant it as a statement of the blindingly obvious. Perhaps surprisingly for sustainability colleagues, my answer was a qualified yes – qualified that is by timescales.
We were talking about the ESG factors – environment, social and governance issues that investors are increasingly tracking – which boards whether in France or elsewhere should address when considering “le développement durable”.
In that context, if the timescale is this quarter’s earnings, then no: focusing only on the money is not the answer. But if we’re talking about business success that endures, then yes, it is about the money and we should get better at talking about it. For that, we need accountants on board to help. And that’s why, at the start of the year, we cited CFO fluency in sustainable business as one of Corporate Citizenship’s top ten trends for 2019 – and predicted a change in allegiance among finance directors from foe to friend.
My perspective on this question is as a chartered accountant. None of this was covered in my original training, but thankfully, that’s changing. Fifteen years ago my institute published the definite 100+-page guide to the part accountants should play in measuring, reporting and assuring sustainability. (Sustainability: the role of accountants ICAEW 2004)