Tracey Groves, leader of ESG UK at advisory firm StoneTurn, explains her philosophy which has helped clients ‘hardwire corporate integrity’ for almost three decades, while Mike Bullock reveals the purpose-built initiatives that have helped him as CEO of Corps Security.
“There has never been a more vital moment for CEOs to embrace sustainability as a core aspect of the enterprise,” a recent IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) report begins. “It’s clear that environmentally-minded organisations are set up for long-term success – and the time to act is now.”
83% of the 3,000 chief executive officers surveyed said they expect sustainability investments to produce improved business results in the next five years. From an employee perspective, a separate IBV report found two thirds of the 16,000 respondents were more willing to apply for (67%) and accept (68%) roles at more environmentally sustainable companies.
“I’m totally convinced it starts at the top on climate change and on ESG,” Guy Cormier, CEO of financial services company Desjardins, said. “You can’t fake it, especially with your younger employees.”
Tracey Groves has built her career on ‘hardwiring corporate integrity’ into organisations’ strategies. After almost three decades at PwC UK, a large part of which involved setting up business ethics and compliance functions for clients, Groves leads the ESG UK practice at advisory firm StoneTurn, where she is a partner, and is CEO and founder of her own agency, Intelligent Ethics.
“What I encourage my clients to do is think about how they are applying their values,” Groves tells Sustainable Future News. “When you have a choice about what action to take, how are these decisions being made that truly reflect those values, and are being driven by your purpose?”
Groves defines hardwiring corporate integrity in terms of ‘peeling back the layers of the onion’ when organisations have a value of doing the right thing. “It’s this alignment or coherence of your values with your actions,” she explains. “Because when we say one thing – especially as leaders who are role models and in theory are setting that tone from the top – as soon as they say one thing but then do another, what happens is that trust is shattered.
“Doing the right thing comes down to our ability to have faith and confidence in our actions, and also to feel psychologically safe, to make difficult choices and decisions,” Groves adds.
Ethos-led and commercially aware
Mike Bullock is CEO of Corps Security, a position he took on in 2018 having joined five years earlier. The company has a particularly strong story; it was founded in 1859 with a clear social mission to help ex-military into worthwhile employment. To this day, the company will guarantee any veteran an interview, and will often go the extra mile in helping with a candidate’s CV or training and development if they’re not the right fit.
Bullock has been a clear success on the business side. The company’s 2021 annual report noted an operating profit of just over £1 million, compared with 2018’s £179,000 loss. His philosophy is refreshingly straightforward, while noting the strength of Corps’ heritage.
“You still make decisions based on your ethos,” he tells Sustainable Future News. “But you can’t shy away from some difficult decisions – at the time – in order to get [the business] into shape. Profit isn’t a dirty word – it’s what you do with it that counts.”
There are two clear actions which back up Bullock’s words. Corps is a Social Enterprise, having been awarded the gong last August. This means, among other things, that at least 51% of a company’s profits must go to social or environmental purposes.
The key here, however, was that Corps didn’t need to do anything different to get the award. “It actually was sparked from a customer of ours who felt that we should go for this formal accreditation,” Bullock explains, adding proudly that one of the Social Enterprise representatives told him ‘you were a social enterprise before we were.’ “It’s made a huge difference,” says Bullock. “It’s bringing more varied customers to our doorstep, for the people who value what we do and what we’re about.”
The second initiative, of which Bullock is especially passionate, is the Living Wage. Bullock calls it the ‘circle of care’. “The living wage has been huge for us – it’s been a real focus and guide as to what we do,” he says. “We look after our colleagues, colleagues look after our customers, and our customers look after us by paying our bills.”
Progression rather than perfection
For Groves, there are a few tenets which she believes will stand leaders in good stead. One is moral authority. “It’s about your ability to inspire, to empower, to build trust, and to really activate this sense of how we can bring our best selves to work,” she explains.
Linked to this is a sense of almost vulnerability, which is where diversity and inclusion, in gaining a plurality of experiences, comes in. “There’s something compelling and very human about the vulnerability of you as a leader, your ability to recognise collaboration and consultation with others, and inviting people to the table who are different than you,” says Groves.
Corps is open about its progress on the living wage. When it started plotting the figures, around 35% of Corps’ employee base were on the living wage or above. Today, it is at more than 70%. This philosophy translates to companies Corps works with as well, though there are concessions for those who may not be able to afford it.
Groves frequently warns of organisations ‘minding the gap’ at their peril. “If there is a ‘say-do’ gap, if there is any glimmer of daylight between what you espouse and what you go out and communicate in terms of your ability to be sustainable and to act as a responsible business, then you go on to do something which conflicts with that, it’s very quick to spot,” says Groves.
Bullock advocates an open house, and invites all 3000 of Corps’ employees to send him an email about their concerns. “I don’t get loads – it’s normally quite innocuous,” he says. “But I answer all of them, and I have to give a complete rundown to the trustees and the board. They want to make sure I’m looking after the whole team.”“I always say this is not about perfection, it’s about progression,” adds Groves. “I don’t expect an organisation to be perfect when it comes to ESG, because it’s actually very, very challenging. It’s about identifying: where are your strengths? Where are your vulnerabilities as a business? And then focusing on your ESG journey in a way that is collaborative and honest.”
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