ESG and Corporate Sustainability 大企業的可持續發展—金融人的足跡
An ESG Pioneer
What pops up in your mind when you hear about big corporations? Unreachable? High entry barrier? Do you know what directions they are heading for nowadays? A key element is sustainability, which has quickly become the main focus in the long-term strategies of different corporations all across the world. The way in balancing the welfare of environment, social and governance is known as ESG developments, a new trend for all businesses to follow in this new world. Inti Wong, currently working in Chow Tai Fook Jewelry Group (CTF) as an Associate Director of Finance & Governance, is advocating the principles of ESG, as well as the practices of it, into the company’s longer-term plan. She has been advocating the integration of ESG principles and practices with the Company’s long-term development plan in order to create risk-optimized value to its stakeholders. As the idea is pretty new to the business world, Inti is a pioneer and ESG practitioner. How did she get into ESG, and how would she promote sustainable development in big corporates?
ESG means that the development from the aspects of Environment, Social, Governance. It is the three main indicators for corporate to achieve their aim of sustainable development. They have to consider the welfare of society and the world as well as the environment impact while trying to make profits from their business.
Inti began her career in accounting. Her career path is not as challenging as you may expect. In fact, her career development is not short of coincidences. As an accounting and finance graduate from the University of Hong Kong, she began her career in one of the Big 4 accounting firms, as most accounting majors did. Working diligently in Ernst & Young for a few years, she got an offer from Chow Tai Fook quite unexpectedly. She was asked to focus on and implement CTF’s plan of listing in Hong Kong. Upon her arrival, she was mainly in charge of the financial development of CTF, until the Director of Finance found her talent in integrated reporting (IR). IR is a new reporting framework that incorporate broader business values and corporate sustainability. It is also considered as important by the CTF group with an aim of exploring the sustainability of the corporate. In particular, Inti would lead her firm in digital transformation. It has become her main career focus and laid a solid foundation for her work on ESG development.
Challenges from ESG
Pushing forward the ESG idea in the company is no easy task for Inti. Green technologies and environmental preservation were not her expertise in the past. Fortunately, her skills from the previous job helped her out in this new working environment. Owing to the fact that ESG was a pretty new idea then, naturally she had to advocate ESG to her superiors and colleagues to gain their support in the development plan with an ESG focus. In addition, ESG has covered many aspects of the company’s business plan that Inti has to reach out externally to different NGOs, universities and different companies embracing the idea of ESG. The practical need for effective communication has enabled her to polish her skills and gain precious experience from that.
“Many skills related to public speaking, presentations and storytelling were built up during these few years as I started working in the field of ESG” Inti said with a satisfying smile.
Take-Aways from the ESG role
“Top officials in the management board are generally open and willing to accept the change by the shifting of development plan to ESG. It is certainly good news for the one pushing forward the plan” Inti said.
“A few years ago, when I was sharing my experience in one of the CTF annual conference, I talked about why we should care and develop with ESG principles. I was so nervous at that time, worrying that the company does not pay much attention to sustainable development principles suggested by ESG. However, when I used a CO2 model to illustrate the acute problem of CO2 emissions, the CEO was impressed and supported my idea of creating similar models to raise colleagues’ awareness. I was also very glad to see the management giving full support to the development strategies following ESG. That really brought me a great sense of achievement of my work. I told myself I had successfully achieved my aims.” Inti told us during the interview.
Support from the management board makes Inti even more dedicated to her goal of achieving ESG in the company. She also finds the destination for her own career. Knowing how meaningful and essential ESG is for the world and individual firms, Inti is well-motivated and determined in developing ESG. Her current role is mainly coordinating different business units in the corporate group in achieving sustainable development, making the ten-year-plan with goals related to ESG developments. At the same time, Inti is paying conscientious efforts to promote the ideas of ESG through many talks, seminars, and various activities. She aims to get colleagues to understand and lend their support to the idea of ESG.
“When I know more about ESG, I realize that I should do even more than before. ” Inti commented.
As important as it is, the development of ESG in businesses is not as smooth as one might expect. “To measure the effectiveness of ESG strategy, it is important to set standard key performance indicators (KPI) among the industry to quantify and evaluate the performance of the ESG initiatives. Yet there are no comprehensive or one size fits all measurements to check whether firms have achieved the ESG goal or not.” In this regard, Inti suggests that firms should first scrutinize their scope in choosing suitable ESG goals, then formalize corresponding strategies and standardize the measurements. Inti believes that by overcoming the hurdles in formulating ESG strategies, it will also be beneficial to the sustainability of the business itself. “Sustainability focuses on the rationale of meeting the needs of the current generation without jeopardizing the future ones. By integrating the ESG strategies into the operation of various businesses, we could create an urgency for the current generation to change their practices and improve the well-beings for the future generations.” According to Inti, ESGs could bring loads of benefits for multiple stakeholders. “The formulation of ESG in firms is beneficial to both the business side and the customer side. From the standpoint of businesses, ESG strategies could improve the brand image and provide mitigation in risk management. Yet ESG strategies could also protect human rights by regulating policies for a fair-trade market.”
Apart from ESGs, Inti also pinpoints the concept of CSV as a paramount one for businesses. Creating Shared Value (CSV) is the practice of creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing societal needs and difficulties. Inti thinks that CSV should be prioritised along with the implementation of ESG. The fashion industry is a case in point. “The problem of having high ecological footprint is inherent in the fashion industry. In recent years, there is an increasing number of companies willing to invest more in CSV to tackle this challenge.” Inti named a few examples, including Patagonia the outdoor clothing producer. Patagonia is an American clothing brand. It has been using recycled materials to manufacture their outdoor clothing. It believes that by using the materials that are deemed as waste to many, they could help on reducing pollution in the fashion industry. Such an act has raised the awareness of CSV to the general public, and it has encouraged an increasing number of clothing brands to follow suit. Inti believes that by integrating both ESG and CSV strategies, it could help businesses to facilitate their operation, as well as building a better world for human beings.
In addition to ESG issues, Inti also shares with us her views on the MBA program of CUHK. She believes that MBA is great to students’ knowledge-wise. Yet it is more important for MBA students to develop their own vision and ideas. An added benefit is the network formed by the peers and alumni , where inspiration and help from others with the same aim will be very supportive. To Inti, the greatest benefit of MBA is to get in touch and share her ambitions with a group of lifelong friends. She views MBA as one of the few platforms that can gather a group of true-hearted friends after graduating from college. Furthermore, going back to school from the workplace is also a great opportunity to reflect and think about career directions. In short, she recommends all business students to consider an MBA degree after a few years’ work. It will be very rewarding.
Talking about ESG, Inti noted that convenience and sustainability can be contradicting at times. As consumers, we must stand ready to make a trade off and exert certain influence through the quantity we demanded. Then companies will pay more attention to the market and achieve a sustainable future for us and our future generations. “A better understanding of what we are using everyday allows us to have a greater voice in affecting corporate decisions for production, and their choice in moving more in line with the sustainability of firms. “Inti calmly emphasized. Inti’s words really make us think more and reflect on sustainable development. Younger generations generally support sustainable development, but we seldom do much for our proclaimed love for sustainability. After all, we have probably never said no to anything that is unsustainable. Action speaks louder than words. Inti’s experience tells us that we must start from ourselves if we truly believe in something like ESG principles. There are many things that we can do for our beliefs in sustainable development. For sure we can start from ourselves and impact others through real actions. In the process we may find similar travelers on the same journey of sustainability and develop a meaningful career together.
ESG代表Environment、Social 及 Governance，是企業是否達到可持續發展的三項指標，涉及多個不同範圍，例如溫室氣體排放、能源管理、人權、商業倫理等等，最終目的是從企業角度出發，透過平衡商業利益、社會與環境關懷三方面，達成可持續發展的理念，既滿足當代的需要，同時不損害下一代的利益。
Inti的工作經歷並不如我們想象般充滿高低起伏，反而是機緣巧合、順勢而行的。Inti在香港大學修讀會計及金融，畢業後考入俗稱Big4的四大會計師樓。在安永工作數年後，她轉職往周大福，專責公司上市的工作。在新公司初期，Inti的主要工作仍然和金融有關，直至數年後，在港交所的新指引之下，公司財務總監安排Inti主理 “Integrated Reporting” 的會計框架工作，Inti由此接觸到ESG的理念和實務，她尤其專注於企業科技轉型，希望帶領公司實踐科技轉型，並以此成為她的事業目標。
Integrated Reporting (IR) 是一個源於南非的整合性報導框架。相較一般會計框架，IR更聚焦於透過整合思維、決策和行動，創造短、中、長期的價值。企業通過對客戶及當地社區等持分者的影響，公司便能更有效地運用資本，以滿足企業目標，達至可持續發展。
Student Reporters: Lam Tat Hin (IBBA/2), Wong Hong Ting (IBBA/2), Chow Shuk Wa (HIST/3) and Lam Mei Suet (IBBA/2)