It’s time we strengthen the ‘S’ in ESG 

By Robert Perry (Manager Thriving People)  

We’re all familiar with Aotearoa New Zealand’s net zero 2050 goal – but what is the equivalent ‘goal’ for social sustainability? Is there one, and if not, how do we go about setting one?  

Social sustainability is changing rapidly and has become a growing focus for business – the issues facing Aotearoa are broad, complex and demand systematic approaches. Increasing regulation is expanding responsibilities for business, while stakeholders are placing greater scrutiny on the social performance of business.   

However, despite growing commitment and leadership by individual businesses, member insights suggest the ‘social’ part of ESG is lagging behind the increasingly systematic and formalised approaches of environmental management and corporate governance, that action remains relatively siloed and issue specific, and that impact is falling short of the ambitions and systemic change that social issues demand. 

How strong is the ‘S’ in ESG, and how do we make it stronger? 

To support our members to be at the vanguard of social sustainability, SBC has commissioned Deloitte to undertake analysis to build our understanding about:  

  • social sustainability as a system, including a meaningful definition for it 
  • the current capabilities and the critical needs of business to embed social outcomes into day-to-day business and to support meaningful action on societal issues (both individually and collectively)  
  • the unique role the SBC can play, and the key system partners we can work with, to ensure our members are equipped to consider and lead in putting Thriving People at the heart of business strategy. 

One of the most exciting outputs of this mahi will be a clear list of priority recommendations, which will outline the specific actions SBC, our members and our partners need to undertake to support and enable businesses to increase their positive impact on communities, as well as measure and report on this consistently. This will inform SBC’s programme planning to focus and strengthen the Thriving People pillar of our overall strategy.  

We want you to get involved 

The discovery phase is already in full swing – once this phase of the project is done, we’ll bring the global and local insights Deloitte will have harvested from SBC members, key stakeholders and desktop analysis back to our amazing working group of 10 members that are co-funding this project with us, outlined below: 

  • Chorus  
  • Christchurch International Airport 
  • DB Breweries  
  • DLA Piper  
  • Fonterra  
  • Genesis  
  • NZ Post
  • SKYCity  
  • Southern Cross Health Society  
  • Westpac

The final report (due by the end of May) will give us a strengthened mandate and a shared views of what great looks like which we can all work towards, and will support the development of a 3-5 year prioritised programme of action for delivering transformative social impact. We are looking forward to sharing both with you in the near future. 

A huge shout out to members of the working group for supporting this important mahi – the wider membership will have the chance to get involved soon, as leveraging the collective impact of our membership will be a massive component of the overall success of the initiative.  

Why do you think the ‘S’ is lagging? 

One of the challenges we see is that collective action is weakened by a lack of a ‘north star’, which makes it critical that we find an equivalent ‘net zero’ for social outcomes. This presents a real challenge, as people and their complexities can’t be easily measured in tonnes like carbon can. I would love to hear your thoughts on why the “S” is lagging, and what it would take to push harder on it.   

We’ll be putting out more information further down the track, and if you would like to share your thoughts or are interested in getting involved, please email me at [email protected] to discuss further. 

5 Apr, 2023

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