Lenovo, best known for its hardware as well as providing IT services, has a longstanding sustainability record, publishing its 17th annual ESG report earlier this year. Sustainable Future News speaks with Mary Jacques, Executive Director, Global ESG and Regulatory Compliance, on how Lenovo tells its stories while avoiding greenwashing, and how to bring an ESG strategy to fruition.
The complexities of ESG, for large companies, are not just limited to understanding the full impact of the supply chain or simply working out what needs to be done by when. Many sustainability leaders have to not only achieve a balance with regard to shareholder interest, but also between the three letters of the ESG initialism itself.
For global technology provider Lenovo, whose 17th annual ESG report earlier this year makes the company something of an old hand at this, the balance is better than most. Across the report’s 143 pages, the word ‘environmental’ appears 377 times, ‘social’ 258, and ‘governance’ 247. ESG itself gets a grand total of 212 mentions.
This may not be an exact science, but in some ways, it emphasises a wider point. So much of ESG has to be quantitative. January saw Lenovo announce its net zero commitment for 2050, aligned to the SBTi’s Net Zero Standard, while in the same month CDP, the world’s largest environmental database, gave Lenovo top ratings across governance, risk management processes and value chain engagement.
Statistics and targets, however, are not going to do the job on their own. There needs to be a story to frame a narrative around the numbers – but be warned that embellishment or deviation could lead to greenwashing concerns from an increasingly switched-on consumer base.
Mary Jacques, Executive Director, Global ESG and Regulatory Compliance at Lenovo, notes the balance which needs to be struck. “When we talk about benefits, whether it’s environmental or social, it has to be real and quantifiable, so we have to make sure we’ve got some sort of measurement in place. So we can say this product includes these energy metrics, this level of recycled content. That gets really dry,” Jacques tells Sustainable Future News.
“My team is largely engineers and technical experts – not necessarily the best communicators – so it’s been really important for us to build connections within not just our comms organisation, but also our marketing organisation to help them understand the maturity of our customers.”
It is not wise to underestimate customer maturity. Lenovo works ‘extensively’ with its marketing teams to train them on what bad practice looks like, to the extent of building champions within marketing organisations. “People will recognise greenwashing,” says Jacques. “And so it is in our best interest to make sure we’re going out there with real, deep messages that are backed up by metrics, by data, by real, evidenced facts.
“People want to be responsible in this space, and I think people themselves are growing in maturity, so they recognise greenwashing. It’s just something you have to do – you have to do the education.”
Not surprisingly, a lot of the best stories come from the social side of ESG. The focus of the Lenovo Foundation has been on helping underrepresented populations access technology and STEM education. September saw the Love on Month of Service – ‘love on’ being an anagram of Lenovo – with over 62,000 individuals impacted in the 2022 program. Jacques notes that on the social side, alongside goals relating to positive community impacts, there are metrics around representation of women and minorities in leadership positions.
Yet she admits that governance is the ‘trickiest’ to put top level KPIs around. “Governance is just so broad and, really, it’s so critically important,” says Jacques. “So we’re really focused in that area on privacy, on ethics and compliance, and then also on just our governance structures around ESG.”
This is not to say that data is anything less than the foundation on which to tell stories and build success. But how do you sort the wheat from the chaff, and how do you put it all together? Jacques admits Lenovo is ‘not perfect’ in this regard, but outlines a continually improving process. The first step is a formal materiality assessment bringing in customer, investor, and regulatory perspectives. After that, make sure you have good measurements in place to help work out whether you are making progress towards mitigating negative impacts, or amplifying positive ones.
“That sounds simple, but it isn’t,” says Jacques. “ESG is so broad, and especially for huge enterprises, often times you’re getting data from a lot of different places.”
This leads into a crucial next step: make sure you have a system for collecting, storing, and gathering data for reporting. “That, honestly, is really complicated, because for many organisations, we’ve got data that has been in these legacy systems, that was there for another reason – and now, suddenly, it’s actually ESG data that you have to report,” she says.
The final piece is having the right experts evaluate your proposition before you go into the big wide world and make claims on your progress. These experts will navigate against greenwashing, as well as ensure accurate and comprehensive data. Again, a cross-department approach is required, taking in not just comms, but also internal auditing teams and third-party verification.
“You have to start with making sure you’re focused on the stuff that’s important,” says Jacques. “Then the end is you have to make sure that you’re disclosing good data in a way that people can understand.”
This is where standardisation comes in; another major source of headaches. As difficult as it is, Jacques argues that it will make the bitter pill of complexity a little easier to swallow. “I cannot under-emphasise the importance of these standardised programmes,” she explains, “because otherwise suppliers are spreading their energy across hundreds, potentially even more, different requests for information, trying to interpret different types of goals.
“The more we can standardise on these common disclosures and these common goals like the science-based targets, it helps us make real progress, but it also makes it more efficient.”
How should organisations get started? “You really need to make sure you’ve got the right resources who understand how these different reporting paradigms intersect, or are different, to make sure that you’re actually meeting the reporting requirements,” says Jacques. “I’m really fortunate that we have a very strong team who bring a lot of different industry expertise, internal expertise, but who have also come from a lot of different backgrounds, and they’re bringing that to play to help us make sure we have good reporting in place.”
So with all this in mind, how does Jacques honestly gauge Lenovo’s sustainability progress? Scope 3 is described as a challenge, with a goal of removing one million tons of greenhouse gas emissions from Lenovo’s supply chain by 2025. Otherwise, the report card is good. As a provider of computer hardware, circularity is a vital component of balancing the books on sustainability.
“Really what we’re trying to do is not just pick one or two niche products where we put some kind of cool new material in. We’re really trying to do a lot of our sustainable materials at volume – driving the use of recycled content across entire platforms, trying to drive the use of high levels of both post-consumer recycled plastic, and also closed loop recycled plastic,” says Jacques.
“We build a lot of products, and we can use a lot of these materials at volume – and I’m really proud of the level of implementation we’ve gotten with those materials.”
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