Over the years, sustainability has become an important global issue and an emerging policy priority for many countries and organizations. There has been a strong push to disclose data on this subject through various forms of public reports. A particular and increasing interest has been placed on the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Standards — the three broad areas used by companies, mostly publicly listed, to measure their ethical impact and to take accountability and responsibility for non-financial performance. Such standards are widely used as a key consideration for decisions made by investors, suppliers, and consumers, hence the increasing importance to better manage, measure, and communicate sustainability efforts.
As early as 1987, the UN Bruntland Commission Report defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Fast forward, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted in 2015. The 17 SDGs recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes in others, thus there needs to be a balance between economic, social, and environmental development. The attainment of these Global Goals is a call to action for peace, prosperity, and progress by 2030.
But what exactly does sustainability mean for a company and its stakeholders? Did the COVID-19 situation “intensify” the social responsibility of corporations and individuals? How can we better understand sustainability and gender equality as important elements in identifying risks and opportunities?
FROM ‘A NICE TO HAVE’ TO ‘THE RIGHT THING TO DO’
A strong ESG proposition can create value and every business is deeply intertwined with these standards. In 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) took a further step in embedding sustainability reporting in the business culture. Per the SEC, all efforts to promote sustainability reporting as a business practice are intended to hopefully incentivize companies into working on their own measures, as well as to make them aware of the reputational risks and benefits.
The data and information that companies generate and report through sustainability reporting are quite unique. Risks concerning the environment, particularly climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, were the flag bearers of most sustainability reports. At present, sustainability should go beyond environmentalism and it is timely to give equal importance to Social and Governance Goals.
THE SUSTAINABILITY AGENDA
On July 28, the Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (PBCWE), together with Investing in Women and WeEmpowerAsia Program of the UN Asia and the Pacific, organized the “WEE Mean Business Roundtable Dialogue: Sustainability as the New Language of Business.” The resource speakers were two PBCWE Member Companies who demonstrate the “gold standard” when it comes to sustainability and gender diversity initiatives — the Philippine National Bank (PNB) and Meralco.
Represented by Leia Teodoro, Senior Assistant Vice-President and Head of Marketing and Intelligence, Analytics, and Performance Group, PNB’s sustainability pillars are anchored on EESG — Economic being the other “E.” As a pioneer in the banking industry, PNB proudly commits to gender-responsive sustainability reporting through the collection and reporting of gender data in its 2018, 2019, and 2020 Sustainability Reports. PNB is the first universal local bank in the country to receive the first level of the EDGE Certification through PBCWE. Until 2021, the Bank was chaired by a female who held the post for the last 15 years.
Meralco’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Raymond Ravelo, shared that their sustainability agenda is anchored on four pillars — Power, Planet, People, and Prosperity, hence the theme #PoweringTheGoodLife. “Good life” means providing energy for all, always; protecting and preserving the planet by lowering greenhouse gas emissions and minimizing waste; nurturing sustainability from within, while ensuring the holistic well-being of all Meralco employees in safe and inclusive workplace; and, creating better lives for all, ensuring that no one is left behind. Similar to PNB, Meralco embeds UN SDG #5 (Gender Equality) and #8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) in their Sustainability programs, such as its #Mbrace Diversity and Inclusion Program, which seeks to build a more gender-balanced and inclusive Meralco. Quoting Meralco, “True sustainable progress undoubtedly requires a shared vision and collective earnest action.”
For both PNB and Meralco, regular and consistent data collection is the best practice to accurately measure trends and form evidence-based policies. Shifting systematic barriers need to be identified and analyzed. Tracking the right indicators can help Philippine businesses build a clear pathway to maximizing the competitive advantage that workplace gender equality offers. This is a key moment of opportunity for economic and business growth, especially at this time where companies are doing their best to recover from this pandemic.
MOVING FURTHER, NOT FARTHER
The golden rule is that if an organization cannot create value, it should try to at least minimize harm — not only to stakeholders but also to employees down to the community where it operates. Companies do have an obligation to make a positive contribution to the broader community — and this is why organizations should adopt the best practices of sustainability reporting. Being sustainable means ensuring the longevity of business by maintaining profitability in the market achieved through compliance with all applicable laws, rules and regulations, and alignment with local and international best practices and standards.
Other countries have done it, and we can definitely do it too! The government, private sector, and individuals — basically everyone — have a collective responsibility for adopting sustainable practices, including the creation of gender-equal workplaces. Much has been said but, in many respects, there is still much that can be done for meaningful and measurable progress.
Sustainability is the “new” language of business and indeed “what gets measured, gets acted upon.”
(This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP. The author is member of MAP Corporate Governance Committee and MAP Arts & Culture Committee. She is President of MAGEO Consulting Inc., a company providing corporate finance advisory and consulting services. She is also Chair of Philippine Women’s Economic Network (PhilWEN) and Co-Chair of PBCWE. Antoinette Santos is the Policy and Communications Specialist of PBCWE. Feedback at <firstname.lastname@example.org> and <email@example.com>. For previous articles, please visit <map.org.ph>)