One of our clients told us about the moment in which their perspective changed: at a board meeting, an investor asked what the company was doing about sustainability. The room went silent. The management team looked around at each other. Within a year, a full-blown sustainability effort and program was up and running. Now this company is measuring and upgrading the environmental and social impact of their operations, from their products to their buildings, and their leadership talks about the importance of sustainability in magazine interviews.
At Nativa, we partner with companies who are ready to evolve and make their businesses “future-fit.” But what gives a business leader the motivation to think beyond of “business as usual” and become a changemaker? Recently we notice that attention from the finance community can provide the necessary push.
There are several ways in which investors, from banks and funds to private equity firms and private investors, can be catalysts of change in the businesses in which they invest. While many of these approaches are becoming visible in the US, in a more traditional financial market like Italy investors still have a wide margin to be even more proactive.
1) Ask the question. As in the example of our client, even a simple question can trigger some soul-searching, and at a minimum analysis of current practices. Even though the investor represented a minority shareholder and the meeting was in private, the question was taken seriously enough to kick-start a sustainability program.
2) Put on the pressure. Much has been, and will continue to be, discussed about the Laurence Fink’s letter to CEOs of companies in which BlackRock invests. Regardless of its immediate effect, the public call-to-action seems inevitable to trigger conversations in boardrooms about the impact of business on society. In another example, Apple is now in a position to have to respond to a public letter - complete with specific questions and suggestions - from its investors about the impact of its technology on children.
3) Show your face. A newly formed network of high net worth families and individuals called The ImPact has taken an innovative approach in inspiring families to “improve the impact of their investments”: putting names and faces, and using the power and safety of a group, to mobilize purpose-driven investing. We look forward to seeing large family investors in Italy in Europe follow suit.
4) Make it mandatory. Here in Italy, we are looking with close attention to how companies react to the new legislation requiring sustainability reporting for public companies with over 500 employees, starting with their 2017 activities. Some management may choose to a “check the box” report, but we are hopeful that more evolved leaders take this opportunity to set up responsible practices in a comprehensive way.
5) Make it easy. There may be a misconception that asking the question means also introducing a complicated reporting mechanism in a business that already has various priorities to address. The good news is that out-of-the-box tools, like the B Corp platform B Impact Assessment, exist for investors and fund managers to easily and intuitively measure a 360-degree impact of their portfolio companies.