October Monthly Briefing: ESG in an Economic Downturn

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.

It might therefore be thought rather untimely for the net zero Transition Plan Taskforce to pick this month to launch its final “disclosure framework” at London’s Stock Exchange. Described as a gold standard for best practice, this is the culmination of an extended process, and has real implications for many firms, not least those facing mandatory reporting of sustainability impacts. Muttering about “more ruddy red tape” won’t be restricted to politicians of a certain ilk.

The good news, therefore, is that the Taskforce did involve representatives from the Just Transition movement (see here for our own take on this vital “social’ angle to meeting the environmental challenge). Explicitly part of recommended disclosures is how a company’s strategic ambitions impact on advancing social equity and addressing potential adverse social impacts. A foundational principle of the guidance, is that this must start with strategic plans and business models, considering external factors.

This holds out the prospect that transition plans will be “holistic” – that is, will address social and economic impacts as much as carbon, and be relevant to the actual business as market conditions change.

So our writers this month look at future-fit strategies, offer some timely tips, and do a deep dive on how to identify the impacts that matter to your firm, using materiality reviews as an effective business tool for navigating these turbulent times.

Visit the October Monthly Briefing here.

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