Empowering Tomorrow’s Leaders: Key Takeaways from EcoSkills Exclusive Interviews with ESG Pioneers

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In an era where sustainability shapes the future of industries, the voices leading the change need to be addressed and communicated effectively. 

This article offers an exceptional glimpse into the minds of ESG pioneers at the forefront of the ESG movement. Through in-depth conversations with ESG trailblazers, this piece not only unveils the transformative power of sustainable practices but also serves as a beacon of inspiration and a roadmap for the next generation of leaders eager to make a tangible impact. Join us as we explore the insights and strategies that are shaping the sustainable future of business, guided by the pioneers who are rewriting the rules of success in the green economy. 

Businesses globally are increasingly embracing ESG, a compilation of actions (such as policies, protocols, and performance indicators) to mitigate harmful effects or amplify beneficial impacts on the environment, society, and governing bodies. ESG, is an integral component of sustainability, that the UN World Commission on Environment and Development accurately defines as “the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.  Therefore, a company’s performance, risk assessment, and accessibility to financial resources are all positively impacted by the extent to which it considers and incorporates ESG issues into its operations. 

The construction company Titan, communicates a strategy under the title “To make the world around us a safe, sustainable and enjoyable place to live in, where it prioritizes resource preservation, green initiatives, people-centric approaches, and inclusivity. Yannis Paniaras, Executive Director, Europe at TITAN Cement Group, highlights that a company should care about its people, customers, communities, and the environment. The most palpable demonstration of sustainability in action in the field of construction are the investments and the innovation a company performs for the creation of new, low carbon building materials, such as green cements and complementary, zero carbon, cementitious products. Not only do these moves drive growth and improve financial performance; they are also key in meeting ESG metrics on climate action.

It is no longer disputable whether investors recognize the significance of ESG factors when making investment choices. That being so, companies have been progressively incorporating ESG considerations into their operational strategies. ESG encompasses various aspects of business operations that traditional financial analyses may overlook, yet they often hold financial implications for companies. Failing to assess ESG risks, could lead to significant financial setbacks. It’s essential to recognize that not all ESG concerns are universally substantial for all companies; their relevance depends on factors such as a company’s specific operations, geographical location, and value chain. Therefore, the goal is to prioritize ESG issues that align closely with a company’s core activities. 

According to Dimitrios Kokkinis, Founder and CEO of Proteus Social Innovation & Development, “with a natural-living-systems-based approach, ESG metrics are brought into the right relationship with the business since, instead of the goal or a regulatory requirement, they become the indicators of a company’s success.” He also highlights that by focusing on improving the social pillars of ESG, the environment and governance can be successfully addressed as byproducts. 

To integrate ESG into its strategy, a company should start by pinpointing ESG issues most relevant to its operations. It should devise initiatives to tackle any gaps in its business strategy related to ESG. This process involves conducting a materiality assessment to identify key ESG concerns and determining the obstacles hindering the achievement of ESG objectives. Furthermore, integrating ESG targets with financial goals is crucial, along with offering solutions that prioritize ESG considerations in addressing pressing challenges, such as climate change or the impact of events like COVID-19. 

Incorporating ESG into corporate sustainability requires prioritizing employee education. Continuous learning within a business is vital, especially concerning sustainability. Companies must consistently update their workforce and other stakeholders on new sustainable methods, emerging technologies, and industry trends through various communication channels and dedicated sustainability platforms. Educating employees about sustainability helps them grasp the significance of eco-friendly practices and their role in fostering a socially responsible organization. Training topics may encompass CO2 emissions reduction, ethical business practices, energy efficiency, waste management, sustainable procurement, innovation, and safety protocols. 

Apollonia Karampatsou, Sustainability & CSR Manager at Mitsis Group and Strategic Initiatives Advisor for the Center for Responsible Travel, highlights the pivotal role of employees and stakeholders in driving a sustainable future. She asserts that significant steps must be taken to educate them through programs that cover a wide array of topics. These include the significance of CSR initiatives, community engagement, labor and human rights, child safeguarding, and environmental management practices. Karampatsou further notes that cultivating a culture centered on sustainability is not merely a moral duty but also a strategic necessity that offers numerous benefits for companies. Such an approach not only bolsters the brand’s reputation and strengthens stakeholder trust but also leads to operational efficiencies and innovation, potentially yielding considerable cost savings and competitive advantages. Moreover, she adds, a steadfast commitment to sustainability serves as a magnet for attracting and retaining talent who are keen on contributing to work that delivers a positive social and environmental impact. 

Successfully developing and executing sustainability and ESG strategies hinges on engaging stakeholders effectively. This involves involving internal and external stakeholders in the planning process, including determining which Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the organization aims to target. Companies can pinpoint and prioritize environmental and social concerns that require attention through stakeholder engagement and monitoring sentiments. This process facilitates the development of solutions tailored to meet stakeholder needs. 

Nasos Makios, Environmental Manager at KLIMIS and European Climate Pact Ambassador, divides stakeholders mainly into three categories: organizational, which includes employees, management and shareholders, financial, which includes customers, transport companies, partners, suppliers, certification bodies, banks, tax authorities, insurance funds and social, which includes communities, government, non-profits organizations and the environment. According to Makios, a company must understand the different needs of its stakeholders and strives to meet their requirements to improve the relationship and synergies. The key sustainability challenges that stakeholders prioritize usually are environmental protection and the high quality of products. Some companies manage to satisfy those challenges by implementing globally recognized standards for quality management system ISO 9001:2015 and environment management system ISO 14001:2015. 

D. Kokkinis stresses the critical importance of educating employees and stakeholders as a cornerstone for the company’s success and the achievement of its vision. He advocates for comprehensive familiarization with the company’s culture, vision, and strategic direction as essential for all involved in the company’s projects. This understanding is crucial for making informed decisions and responding adeptly from positions of authority. Kokkinis highlights the significance of aligning stakeholders with the company’s values to mitigate resistance to change and to generate momentum. He underscores the necessity of maintaining close communication with stakeholders and beneficiaries, keeping them informed about the progress, outcomes, and returns of projects over time. This approach emphasizes the positive impact of adopting a stance of regeneration and sustainability. 

Furthermore, Kokkinis believes that highlighting and identifying core regenerative principles and understanding value creation and/or value destruction in each activity and decision in the promotion of value-based management is critical in gaining stakeholder support and successfully navigating in change management towards a regenerative culture. 

Consequently, stakeholder engagement emerges as a fundamental pillar of sustainable practices. Thus, it is imperative to actively involve stakeholders in sustainability endeavors, not only during the formulation of a sustainability strategy but also throughout its execution. 

By incorporating ESG principles into their strategies and considering the interests of all stakeholders, companies position themselves not only for economic prosperity but also for resilience in the face of significant challenges like climate change, which leads to severe weather events. Recognizing the multitude of climate risks, is essential for all business leaders, who must proactively anticipate and address these risks. This includes implementing measures to prepare for and mitigate the impact of climate-related risks. Here we can see some of the most common extreme weather events: 

  1. Extreme Temperatures: High temperatures not only pose risks to public health and safety but also affect business operations, causing damage to facilities and disruptions in workforce productivity, especially for outdoor labor-intensive industries. 
     
  1. Wildfires: Aggravated by extreme heat, wildfires have become increasingly prevalent in recent years. The United Nations forecasts a significant rise in uncontrollable wildfires globally, posing threats to critical infrastructure and disrupting business operations. 
     
  1. Hurricanes, Cyclones, and Typhoons: Despite typically providing advance warning, these severe weather events still inflict significant business costs. Direct expenses include property damage and equipment repairs, while indirect costs stem from revenue losses and supply chain disruptions, with recovery often spanning years. 
     
  1. Floods and Storms: Catastrophic flooding poses significant business risks by damaging assets, disrupting transportation, and causing revenue loss. Coastal and river communities and employees face heightened vulnerability to such events.

A. Karampatsou agrees that climate change is one of the greatest threats the world has ever faced, and she acknowledges the significant impact that extreme weather events can have on the tourism industry, as they can disrupt operations, damage property, and affect the overall guest experience. To address these challenges and safeguard the company’s operations, guests, and local communities, strategies focused on resilience and sustainability, including infrastructure resilience, emergency preparedness and response plans tailored to local risk, employee trainings, guest communication and safety protocols, environmental stewardship, renewable energy investments, and close collaboration with local communities and authorities can be implemented. 

In a compelling narrative of resilience and adaptation, N. Makios recounts a pivotal moment in 2016 when his company was confronted with a dramatic challenge: their facilities were flooded following a river overflow triggered by intense rainfall. Offices, warehouses, and valuable goods and equipment were drenched under half a meter of water, propelling the company into a three-week period of recovery and reflection. This incident served as a catalyst for change, prompting the company to implement preventative measures to either avoid or lessen the impact of similar events in the future.  

Their strategic response included investing in the climate-proofing of buildings and critical equipment, securing insurance, and engaging in collaborative efforts with public authorities to ensure the river’s cleanliness and regularly inspect the river levees for any breaches. This experience underscores the importance of proactive measures and partnerships in safeguarding against environmental risks. 

The insights shared by ESG pioneers in EcoSkill’s exclusive interviews illuminate the path for empowering the next generation of leaders. These narratives not only highlight the importance of integrating sustainability into the core of business strategies but also demonstrate the transformative power of education and stakeholder engagement in fostering a sustainable future.  

As we stand at the crossroads of environmental responsibility and corporate innovation, the acumen imparted by these pioneers offers invaluable guidance for those looking to make a meaningful impact. Let us carry forward the lessons learned, inspired to take bold steps towards a more sustainable world for generations to come. 

For a deeper dive into integrating ESG principles into your business framework and truly making a difference, explore the comprehensive courses offered by EcoSkills. Embark on a journey of transformation and sustainability, guided by expert insights and practical strategies. 

 

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