Committee Spotlight - A duty to planet Earth

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As preaching concern for the environment becomes fashionable, Rachel Fleishman and Jim Taylor of AmCham’s Environment & Sustainability committee explain why businesses need to walk the talk

Sustainable. Responsible. Environmentally friendly. These buzzwords may look good on a company’s website, but actions speak louder than words.

Rachel Fleishman and Jim Taylor know that acting responsibly matters more now than ever before, and are dedicated to raising awareness of the environmental issues affecting businesses – both at work and as co-chairs of AmCham’s Environment & Sustainability committee.

As Asia-Pacific Head of Advocacy & Sustainability Communications for BASF, Fleishman engages stakeholders across the region to “create chemistry for a sustainable future – building coalitions, regulatory regimes and business models which meet the needs of societies, markets and the environment.”

As Asia’s growing populations become wealthier and more sophisticated and their needs for goods and services grow, so will their awareness that these demands put a strain on the natural resources shared by all, she says. This includes clean air, healthy soil, potable water and a stable, supportive climate.

“As environmental problems grow – think water shortages, more extreme weather and the overload of plastics in the sea and food chains – businesses are held accountable for their waste, their emissions and their environmental footprint,” she says.

Part of the solution

Taylor is the Project Director – Strategic Development at CLP Power, where he is responsible for the company’s long-term strategic planning and consideration of Hong Kong’s regulatory environment.

Taylor says regulators, media, consumers and employees expect businesses not only to understand their impact on the environment and society, but also to mitigate any negative impacts – or help prevent them altogether.

This has driven companies to play their part, he says, to examine their own business models and those of their supply chain partners, in an effort to meet consumer expectations and become part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

Transparency continues to be a key theme across global industry sectors in 2018. Businesses are increasingly being held accountable to (a) recognize and (b) be seen to contribute materially to key areas of environmental concern – be it air quality, carbon footprints, waste or the careful use of natural resources, says Taylor.

Nowhere to hide

Shouting it from the rooftops isn’t enough. Consumers with a conscience, armed with the digital tools to publicly voice their displeasure at anytime and anywhere over what companies choose (or choose not) to do will hold management to their shining promises.

“Shirking responsibility is not an option – particularly for larger, more international businesses,” he says.

Expectations from institutional investors are changing as well. For example, says Taylor, the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosure recommends that companies report on their exposure to future climate risks, as well as actions they are taking to mitigate these potential threats to business continuity.

Both Taylor and Fleishman say other important trends, like the rise of the sharing economy, big data and the digitalization of almost everything, will raise questions about whether these new tools will enable businesses to communicate better with their stakeholders and engender trust, or have the opposite effect and unleash more consumer suspicion.

“One thing is certain: businesses need to build a narrative to accompany any change in strategy. Stakeholders – internal and external – demand nothing less,” they say.

In it together

Fleishman encourages Chamber member companies to pursue opportunities that benefit and improve the environment, and to get involved in committee events that take place throughout the year.

She says key topics on their agenda this year include air quality, waste management and water efficiency, as well as a mini-series on climate risk. The committee also shows strong support for AmCham’s Smart City position, where environmental performance, transport efficiency and energy efficiency are priorities.

“The committee meets regularly with senior Environmental Bureau officials to understand their focus and determine where we can most effectively add our advocacy voice,” she adds.

Fleishman and Taylor say they want to hear from member companies with ideas on how businesses can make Hong Kong a more livable city, how to contribute to the sustainability of the local economy, and what support they need – from the government or otherwise – to do better. 

“Let us know!” they exclaim.