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.

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What the ‘S’ in ESG really means

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.

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Webinar: Materiality 2020 – Time to hit the reset button?

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/

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Friend or foe – the role of the CFO in sustainable business

“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)

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Book review: The Battle to Do Good: Inside McDonald’s Sustainability Journey

Mike Tuffrey, Co-founder of Corporate Citizenship, reviews a personal account of the inner workings of corporate sustainability at one of the world’s most recognisable brands.

A “sustainability page-turner” is not a description one often finds associated with books in the usually heavy-going world of corporate responsibility.  In the case of The Battle to do Good: inside McDonald’s sustainability journey, just published in hardback by Emerald Publishing, the marketing claim rings true.

Bob Langert, the book’s author, takes us on his 25 year journey from being given a “temporary environmental assignment” in the late 1980s to overcome opposition to the polystyrene clamshell, then littering America’s streets, to his retirement in 2015 as McDonald’s first ever vice president for sustainability.  Along the route we learn about chicken welfare standards, the infamous McLibel trial, Amazonian deforestation, childhood obesity, workers’ rights, much more on packaging, and many other topics too.

This journey started in denial, morphed into reactive harm-reduction on individual issues, then grew into a formal corporate strategy first agreed in 2010, and ended with a five year plan, the 2020 Sustainability Framework, with pillars around sourcing, planet, food, people and community.  That’s a journey many large companies have travelled in parallel, although few so much in the public spotlight and with so many individual customers intimately involved – 3.8 million every day served in the UK alone.

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Investors step up pressure on Global Goals

Latest research shows companies are still falling short on the SDGs, while investors move to close the funding gap. That means 2019 is the year to ratchet up the corporate act.

As the year draws to a close, the clock is still ticking loudly towards the deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals – described as the closest thing the world has to a ‘strategy’. Following on from the UN Millennium Development Goals, they were ratified by 193 countries in September 2015 and have 17 goals, with 169 specific targets, covering every aspect of life on planet earth, together providing an ambitious agenda for a better world, all to be achieved by 2030.

I’ve been critical of the approach so far adopted by too many companies towards them. See ‘Let’s stop playing SDG bingo’  where I argued that simply mapping existing activity against the 17 goals to show a contribution is little more than ticking off each in turn and calling out ‘full house’. Companies should move on from this ‘pick-and-mix’ approach and show how the business is changing as a result of addressing the Goals, either in response to market trends and public policy stimulus or so as to increase the intended sustainability impact.

That said, I’m now seeing a slow up-tick in the number of companies who are going further and taking their SDG mapping back into the business with a change agenda. My test is whether they are re-engineering their own product or service portfolio to achieve greater impact or engaging with their partners across their value chain to do the same.

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Let’s stop playing SDG bingo

Progress by companies is proving patchy towards achieving the Global Goals. In a recent webinar, I discussed the need for them to embrace the logic of the business case and stop their pick-and-mix approach.

The clock is ticking towards 2030 – the deadline for achieving all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals, unanimously adopted by world leaders exactly three years ago at a historic UN summit in New York. That may feel a long way off, but at time of writing it’s only 146 months away.

This summer’s UN progress report showed just how far there still is to go. To pick only one, the first on poverty, one in ten of our fellow citizens lives on less than $1.90 a day – the official poverty line – even if that has fallen dramatically from one in four at the start of the millennium.

Over 100 governments have now produced voluntary national reviews to report on progress at country level. However some are so late in preparing theirs – step forward the United Kingdom – that the voluntary sector has taken the initiative to produce its own stock-take: see UKSSD’s Measuring Up report issued in July.

My colleagues and I at Corporate Citizenship have been tracking what companies are Continue reading

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People are our greatest asset, at least until the robots take over

The government is rightly making firms report more about their employees. However big changes are underway in how companies organise their whole labour force, which the new approach misses, as well as the longer term trends towards automation.

New corporate reporting rules, recently released, would seem to confirm the UK government believes that old adage – beloved of CEOs in their introductions to the annual report and accounts – that “our people are our greatest assets”. (Their sincerity is rather too often swiftly undermined by descriptions of the latest restructuring for ‘optimalisation’ that follow in the management review.)

First up, in July the Financial Reporting Council released the new UK Corporate Governance Code, aiming to “put the relationships between companies, shareholders and stakeholders at the heart of long-term sustainable growth in the UK economy.” A quarter of a century on from the original Cadbury Code, the emphasis is even more on building trust and strong stakeholder relationships. See here for the highlights – all about establishing a corporate culture aligned with the company purpose and business strategy, one that promotes integrity and values diversity. Again, the talk is all about principles, applied flexibly, not a rigid set of rules.

Yet in one area, employees, the Code is highly specific. Large companies are now required to engage the workforce in decision-making, through some combination of an employee director on the board, an advisory panel or a designated non-executive director. Those with long memories will recall the firm promise by Theresa May in her July 2016 leadership bid: “If I’m Prime Minister, we’re going to change [the] system – and we’re going to have not just consumers represented on company boards, but employees as well.” Well, not quite, as it turns out. (I wrote about her u-turn on that point soon after here.)

The second big change is a set of rules about mandatory reporting each year of how Continue reading

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Purpose pays – the evidence is clear

The number of purpose-led businesses is growing,  and with it the evidence of a pay-back for business and society.

News breaks this week that the smoothie drinks company, innocent, has become a B Corp.  With its iconic products on most supermarket shelves, this feels like a breakthrough moment for the B Corp movement in the UK.  Innocent joins a roster of some 150 British firms – including Cook, Pukka Herbs, Divine Chocolate and (probably the largest) Danone UK – alongside some 2,500 worldwide.

But isn’t innocent part of Coca-Cola, asked a sceptical colleague in the office; how can they be a B Corp?  While the technical answer to that question lies in the detail of the certification process, the implication is that this has now become a proxy for an all round ‘good’ company – which only adds to expectations about the validation process.

In summary, you can get the accolade if you meet three tests.  Details vary in different jurisdictions, here’s the UK procedure.  Continue reading

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Careless talk hinders progress

When talking about the social purpose of business, loose language results in a loss of focus on the end goal – so here’s a solution.

The proposition is simple: that purpose-led businesses and brands outperform the average.  Surveys abound with data from consumers saying that, price and quality being equal, they’ll switch to cause related brands.  Unilever has become the poster-child for the proposition, reporting that last year its ‘sustainable living’ brands grew 46% faster than the rest of the business and delivered 70% of its revenue growth.

Now a group of ten stewardship investors, collectively managing $8 trillion worth of assets, have taken the question to company boards, using eight agreed questions to uncover the extent to which a company is genuinely and effectively being purpose-led.  Convened by Blueprint for Better Business, the group includes Schroders, Hermes and Legal & General.  Their proposition is that having a clear corporate purpose is a key part of creating long-term sustainable value.

This new focus on purpose raises an awkward question – I believe – for those of us working in this space about why we continue to speak a confusing language about CSR, ESG, corporate responsibility, citizenship and sustainability.  In fact, I’d go further and say it’s worse than that, as we can’t agree among ourselves what the words we use actually mean.  The biblical story of the Tower of Babel comes to mind, a collective endeavour thwarted by language differences.

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