All data in this article has been taken from research commissioned by Addleshaw Goddard LLP and conducted in 2020/21 under the ethical research guidelines set by both the MRS (Market Research Society) and ESOMAR (European Society for Opinion and Market Research). The sample included 550 senior business leaders and 450 finance leaders (including investors, banks and insurers) across the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands.
Myth: All investment in sustainability initiatives is a net cost to the business.
Fact: In 2020 95% of business leaders saw sustainability-driven initiatives either result in a net gain (with an average 2% increase in turnover), or be cost neutral. Looking ahead, 98% of business leaders think sustainability-driven initiatives will contribute a 3.5% increase to revenue by 2025. So in the medium term, having a sustainability strategy is likely to improve financial performance.
Myth: There's no benefit to making sustainability a top priority right now.
Fact: Businesses which act now have the opportunity to reap the benefits of being ahead of their competitors. Currently 74% of the financial community view a business's sustainability strategy as being a key indicator of future profitability but only 7% of businesses proactively communicate their sustainability strategy externally. There's still time to enjoy the benefits of being among the first businesses promoting their sustainability strategy.
MAKE OR BREAK
Myth: Sustainability is a nice to have.
Fact: Sustainability is swiftly becoming a must have. Increasingly evidence of a business's sustainability performance is a prerequisite to it securing funding. In fact, 100% of funders said that by 2025, they will stop funding those businesses in at least 2 sectors which have not adequately addressed the transition to a sustainable economy. That's just 4 years away – within the timeframe for the next refinancing for many borrowers.
Myth: It'll be fine to leave sustainability until it's really necessary.
Fact: Quite aside from the impact on the environment and on society, businesses that don't take urgent action run significant business risks including risking their access to funding, their competitive position and their reputation and relationship with customers. On a range of metrics, the largest businesses are making swifter progress on sustainability. Twice as many mid-sized businesses are taking a compliance only approach to sustainability compared to their very large competitors. And the gap is widening. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 41% of very large organisations say their financial investment in sustainability has increased and 38% say time spent by the board on improving their organisation's ESG performance has increased. This compares to under a quarter of medium-sized businesses that have increased spending (24%) and time spent by the board (23%). 1
Myth: It's just another check-box activity.
Fact: There is no one right way for all businesses to approach their sustainability strategy. The 17 UN Sustainable Development goals range from achieving gender equality to ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns. Each business will have a unique take on how and which of the various sustainability goals are most relevant to them. In the UK, by 2023 the largest businesses will be required to report the financial impact of climate change on their business under the framework developed by the Taskforce for Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. It can only be a matter of time before that approach is applied to a wider range of businesses. These disclosures cannot be made without proper understanding of the unique range of risks and opportunities facing each business.
NO HELP AT HAND
Myth: When it comes to funding, there is no incentive to take action on sustainability.
Fact: Sustainability linked loans are available from a range of lenders. The borrower is incentivised (through a margin reduction) to meet measurable sustainability targets. These targets may relate to climate action or to social impact. The funding may be used for any purpose, including working capital. (This contrasts with green finance which is available to fund a green purpose.)
1. For the purposes of the research very large businesses had an annual turnover over €1billion and medium sized business had an annual turnover of €100m - €500m.
Originally Published 22 April, 2021
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