Who holds the key to ESG success?

Andrew McLaughlin discusses the high stakes in securing manager approval to advance ESG efforts

Who holds the key to ESG success?
Andrew McLaughlin

At times, delivering a presentation to a roomful of strangers can be much less daunting than on home turf.

In early October, I was one of a number of speakers at Canadian Lawyer’s inaugural ESG Summit. It was an engaging event with lawyers and senior sustainability professionals from across the country representing a wide range of industries. The goal for my session was to describe our ESG journey in the mining industry thus far in practical terms - highlighting some of our successes, but also identifying key challenges we’re facing including decarbonization and attracting and retaining more diverse talent into the field, particularly women. In the other sessions, we dug into issues ranging from greenwashing and ESG litigation risks to ethical supply chains and sustainable financing. I left feeling inspired by the deep level of integration of ESG practices across industries in Canada, but also with a nagging sense that we were all preaching to the choir.

Weeks later I delivered a similar presentation, but this time to 30 branch and field managers from 15 countries across our company’s operations. It was our first global managers meeting since the onset of the pandemic, and my first opportunity to present in-person to this group since launching our global ESG Framework in mid-2020.

I was much more nervous about this presentation than my session at the ESG Summit. Why? Because I knew the high stakes of securing buy-in and engagement from this group in advancing our global ESG efforts. Without it, the whole effort collapses, no matter how hard our board of directors and head office want it to succeed.

I was frank with our managers about this dynamic, explaining that they truly are the gatekeepers in this situation; they hold the power, not me, not our CEO, nor anyone else. I focused on why embedding an ESG-minded culture is so important for our future as a company and for their individual and branch success at the local level. As part of this, I explained the growing pressures and demands to up our ESG game coming from all quarters –  customers, investors, communities, employees, and the intensifying regulatory environment. I also highlighted the potential opportunities for them to champion our ESG efforts in the field.

One part of the discussion struck a chord - how do our managers effectively communicate the ESG message to their teams? Ultimately, it’s our local managers – not our executive team – who are best positioned to determine what messaging and engagement will resonate most with the drillers and their crews.

There are regional and cultural differences that require a tailoring of the message. Getting the language right is critical.

While the term “ESG” itself might resonate with corporate executives and institutional investors, it may be received with suspicion and reluctance by field workers – particularly those in the US where the term has become highly politicized and polarizing in some quarters. Given these dynamics, I urged our teams to focus on the underlying principles that really matter like minimizing our impact on the environment, doing good in the communities where we work, and promoting a respectful, inclusive and safe workplace that we can all be proud of. As an example: many of our field workers are attracted to this line of work because they enjoy being outside and have a deep appreciation for nature. Some spend their time off hunting and fishing. For these employees, perhaps the best way to convey our environmental ESG goals in a way that resonates is to tie these back to relatable examples. For example, you have to respect and protect a river if you want to continue fishing it for generations to come.

As the discussion progressed, I learned more about some of the great work and innovations underway in the field that hadn’t yet made it back to head office. I also heard first-hand about some of the distinct obstacles our teams are facing at the local level as they try to tackle some of our biggest ESG challenges. As a parting message, I noted that we’re all learning as we go on ESG – there’s no set playbook, and it’s a rapidly evolving landscape. The more we can maintain a two-way conversation with the field, learning from their applied knowledge and experiences as part of our broader efforts, the better positioned we’ll all be to succeed.

Like the ESG Summit, I came away from this presentation feeling inspired – but this time with an even greater appreciation of the long and challenging road ahead. It’s because of this that I can’t quite shake off the nerves just yet.

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