Davos Fireside Chat - What did the most progressive ESG companies think of Davos 2022?
Marjella Lecourt-Alma (Datamaran, CEO) hosted a fireside chat to discuss Davos 2022 with some of the most progressive ESG professionals we know. The panel included Amanda Gardiner, Head of Sustainability Innovation & Engagement for Meta; Robert Metzke, Global Head of Sustainability for Philips; and Katherine Neebe, VP of National engagement and strategy and Chief Sustainability Officer for Duke Energy.
The discussion raised so many topics that are at the forefront of the minds of ESG professionals today we wanted to share it with you. Some of the most interesting points included:
- Why is Davos more relevant today than ever before and is it influential?
- Are the right topics being discussed at Davos?
- How do you operationalise the sustainability issues we raise as ESG professionals?
- How do you get your leadership to focus on the right set of issues?
- How have your roles as ESG professionals shifted over time?
- What can Davos do better in future?
Consensus on the value of Davos
Amanda Gardiner set the scene for the entire conversation in her opening remarks, and had the support of all panelists, when she said:
“I think Davos matters more than ever. And that's probably a pretty controversial statement, because it's a gathering of the elites. But I think the world is in an unprecedented level of uncertainty.
“Davos is unique in bringing together the influencers around the world to play a part in this web of geopolitical and economic shifts. If ESG is about how business mitigates risks and maximizes opportunities for societal benefit, I would argue Davos remains really the quintessential ESG conference.
“Where else can a CEO get such an acute view of the business context in which they're operating? So my view is it matters more than ever and will remain a predominant ESG place to be.”
Should the discussion be around metrics?
One of the topics discussed extensively at Davos this year was metrics, but our panelists were keen for a different focus. As Robert Metzke commented:
“I think the discussion around metrics is often driven by the reporting industry. And it's a smokescreen that keeps us from focusing on getting stuff done. Of course, it is really important to harmonize these metrics and to agree on something that is implementable and material.
“But that's not where the discussion should stop. That's where the discussion should start. Right?”
Operationalizing ESG issues
Katherine Neebe provided some insight on how companies can operationalize the high level conversation. She highlighted how her current role is unique compared to previous roles because operationalizing ESG is so ingrained into business culture:
“For us, there's no daylight between the core business priority and our ESG priorities. So we've got a goal towards Net Zero, with a number of interim targets and, for our 30,000 or so workforce, every single person has a role to play in helping us. From a planning perspective, from a build perspective etc.
“If you look at it from the board down, ESG is woven throughout. So that hasn’t been a challenge for me at this company, which having worked in this field for 20 plus years, is such a welcome surprise.
Typically I've worked at companies trying to understand what are the issues that are really relevant? How are they creating risk or potentially creating value? And then how do I partner with the business and really figure out how to embed the work so the business really owns this? So that we’re really core to it?
Getting leadership to focus on the right issues
Making sure leaders and the business is focusing on the right things amongst the myriad of issues they face was a topic that came up frequently in the conversation. Amanda Gardiner summed up what many sustainability and ESG professionals are navigating when she said:
“It starts with getting everyone on the same page about priorities. And honestly, in my 20 years in this field, I've never said materiality more often than I have in the last three to six months. But we have to know what's most material for our company. So that materiality analysis, which has been such a foundational part of our work, for the last decade at least, is becoming increasingly important.
“It is understanding what our stakeholders think, understanding our impacts on society, understanding society's impacts on us, and then working with the right leaders inside the business, getting them around the table to figure out the strategy for addressing those issues.
“I think boards are feeling the pressure to understand what this means for their companies and to ask executives how they are approaching ESG. And of course, yes, there's a groundswell from employees who, especially young employees, who are empowered to use their voices to advocate more inside their companies to ask for changes that they want to see, so that they can feel proud to work for a sustainable business.”
The shifting role of an ESG professional
All panelists highlighted how their roles have shifted considerably in recent years. Katherine Neebe summed it up:
“I feel like this field has evolved, you had compliance and then beyond compliance, and then it really hit its stride. And that was an era I refer to as the Corporate Social Responsibility era, the nice to do. You’re doing the glossy reports, the ‘here's what I did last summer’. It was the ‘nice to do’, and then we shifted.
“And it's really now all about how a company is leading strategy on navigating risks and creating value. The strategy for Duke Energy with respect to ESG would fundamentally be different than Philips or for Meta. And so I think the role of head of sustainability, or head of ESG, is to make sure that we're surfacing the right voices and perspectives to really inform our peers, the leaders.”
How can Davos do better?
Robert Metzke’s closing remarks offered sage advice on not just how Davos can do better, but how everyone who takes part plays a role to ensure Davos continues in its position as the quintessential ESG gathering:
“The question is, what would you expect from the WEF as an organization? What do we expect from us as participants? What can I expect from myself personally? And I think they are good questions to ask ourselves.
“Maybe very briefly on the WEF organization. I think there's a lot that can and should be done, not just in addressing appearances, but this very elite bubble, which is a challenge in a world that's increasingly polarizing. I don't know how to address it. But I think it is a challenge for relevance, and I'm sure that very smart people are thinking about it and engaging with the right stakeholders to find a way to address that.
“For the participants of such a gathering, I would say come very prepared, and with open agendas, and not just your own agenda, but a willingness to really listen. And maybe spend time with people that haveopposing views, to get out of your bubble.”
So it’s not just Davos that has to do better, we all, as ESG professionals and enthusiasts, must take responsibility for making Davos a success.