5 min read 24 Nov 21
In the second part of our mini-series exploring how advice firms can become more sustainable, we speak directly to two advice professionals about the types of change taking place right now in the different firms they work for.
A self-confessed sustainability champion, Ellie’s enthusiasm on this particular subject is infectious. She tells us how her like-minded managing director Jen Paice successfully instilled a host of sustainable changes across their firm, along with the help of herself and a small group of colleagues. Ellie also highlights the brilliant businesses and resources that have helped her firm end wasteful office practices and the cumulative power of seemingly small changes.
It was back in late 2019 while preparing to launch our responsible investment proposition, that we realised we needed to walk the walk on sustainability. There is so much talk about ESG investing and products in the market but part of this effort should also be about advice firms looking at what’s going on under the surface of their own business and making changes.
Fortunately, some of us in the business were already very passionate about sustainability in our own lives and the directors in the business were also very supportive about introducing this type of change in our firm, both of which provided us with a strong starting point.
The changes we’ve made so far can sometimes feel like little steps when looked at in isolation, so it’s good to step back sometimes and realise the cumulative effect of these as a whole. Speaking of cumulative effects, some of the businesses we’ve worked with as part of our sustainability drive, including locally based ChangeWorks and Zero Waste Scotland, are also really good at sharing information about the impact your efforts can have, which is a big motivator.
ChangeWorks, for example, have helped us set up a sophisticated office recycling system and they tell you where everything goes and what the end process is, as well as explaining why certain things have to be recycled in particular ways. This has been a great way of getting our team on board, especially those who may have been a little more sceptical initially.
Zero Waste Scotland also have loads of resources for energy saving tips in the office that you might not immediately think of. For example, I couldn’t believe that no one was turning off their computer at night when leaving the office but I’m pleased to say we’ve all stopped that now!
Other changes that have been really simple to make include switching to glass milk bottle deliveries for our offices and using refillable, reusable and recycled products wherever possible including sending our old technology to brilliant local charities.
The move to remote working has helped cut down our carbon footprint because our advisers have drastically reduced the amount of travel required for face to face meetings. We would have otherwise found it hard to get everyone on board with this type of change but the pandemic gave us the chance to try it and the good news is that everyone has really come round to this way of working.
One of the bigger things we’ve explored is switching to renewable energy for our Edinburgh office but unfortunately, this hasn’t been possible thus far because of the way it’s settled in our lease (we rent space in a larger office block). However, we are planning to engage with the other businesses in our building to see if we can get an agreement amongst all the tenants to switch to renewable energy, which could create a way forward.
Another serious commitment we’ve recently made is to submit our B Corp application. It has been a big job for our colleagues involved but will also be a significant achievement if we are successful. And interestingly, B Lab, the charity behind B Corps has just launched the B Corp Finance Coalition UK, which includes a number of prominent businesses in our sector, to call for firms to change their articles of association and start acting on the B Corp principles, instead of waiting to get the official certification. There still aren’t that many B Corp certified businesses in our sector so we think this is a great move to encourage more firms to adopt the spirit of the principles.
EQ Investors is a founding member of UK B Corporation and Jeannie has developed a well-earned reputation as an expert on responsible investing and sustainability amongst the industry and media. She tells us what it takes for a business to fully commit to sustainability and why part of this requires advice firms to put pressure on asset managers to improve sustainability standards.
You need to make a genuine commitment to sustainability and ensure it runs through every aspect of your business. If you have your team on board then sustainability just becomes how you do business - it’s part of your thinking. The challenge is getting to this point because it can’t just be one person’s job.
Part of our commitment has been to join other B Corps in pledging to reach Net Zero by 2030. This requires us to assess our ‘scope 1’ emissions (includes direct emissions like company vehicles and facilities) and ‘scope 2’ (indirect) carbon emissions, and reduce these wherever possible by reviewing suppliers, for example. And, where we are unable to reduce associated emissions, we need to offset these. It’s important to ensure that this carbon offset is meaningful and so we are selecting a project from the UN Carbon Offset Platform.
A word of warning on tree planting projects as a method of carbon offsetting– we have looked in detail at various projects of this kind and found them to be lacking in substance. And given the harsh reality that we only have a decade maximum to try and fix climate change, there simply isn’t enough time for these to grow enough to make an impact at this point.
In our experience, the most important step without a doubt is reducing emissions – that should always be the starting point ahead of any carbon offsetting.
To certify as a B Corp, companies have to meet rigorous standards in all aspects of their business - how you treat staff, customers, your community, the environment and your governance. The certification process needs to be hard to ensure it continues to be meaningful. But the benefit is that it gives us an excellent framework to work within when we are making decisions as a business and therefore helps us maintain momentum.
Like most financial services organisations, our operations ultimately have a relatively low carbon footprint but this doesn’t mean that businesses like ours don’t have a hugely important role to play in solving our social and environmental problems. We believe one of the biggest impacts advice firms can have is through engagement with asset managers to improve sustainability standards in all companies and ensure capital is directed to the most impactful companies.
The advice industry actually has the potential to be hugely influential in this way, especially when you think about the amount of assets that are controlled by UK advice businesses.
In practical terms, we have a small team working on the Net Zero project but no one has overall responsibility for sustainability. This is again where becoming a B Corp has been useful because it gives us a central sense of purpose around sustainability which we all share and it has become a big part of our identity as a result. Our team are really proud of what we’ve achieved so far and our sustainability efforts have been hugely positive for us all.
From Ellie and Jeannie’s experience, it’s clear that advice firms can play their part in reducing emissions and improving sustainability and that even small steps can add up to making a big difference.
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