It’s time to rethink human rights in the boardroom

It’s time to rethink human rights in the boardroom

As the impacts of climate change are felt by more people, human rights are taking center stage in a new and evolving climate agenda. With the blurring of lines between environmental, social and governance concerns, this ushers in a new era for companies’ ESG work.

At the core of this agenda is social justice, and the right to health and well-being. As companies evolve their climate action strategy to include Scope 3, there needs to be a focus on those stakeholder groups and rights holders most affected by climate change and environmental degradation across the value chain. With emerging legislation on mandatory human rights due diligence, the time is now for boards to fully understand the ins and outs of the evolution of human rights in a world in rapid transition.

On Oct. 8, a small revolution took place at the chamber of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The United Nations body for human rights passed a historic resolution recognizing access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a universal right. 

Decades in the making, the newly declared right to a healthy and sustainable environment sends a clear signal to governments and businesses of putting human rights at the center of climate action, of conservation, of addressing pollution and of preventing future pandemics. 

How does this influence the corporate board agenda, duty of care and risk oversight? You may begin with three simple questions to get the board dialogue started.

1. Are we ready for mandatory human rights due diligence?

Mandatory human rights due diligence laws are gaining momentum, and European countries are leading the way. Among first movers are France, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, and 11 more European countries are actively working towards similar regulation or are getting ready to adopt the European Commission Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, in the making.  

In the context of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, here are some important facts to consider:

  • Your accountability is borderless; your salient human rights focus starts with the most vulnerable population groups whose health and livelihoods are most at risk; and it covers every business activity and business relationship across your entire supply chain.
  • Climate change, environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity undermines the future health and well-being of all people on planet Earth. One-quarter, roughly 13.7 million deaths a year, are linked to the environment due to risks such as air pollution and chemical exposure.
  • And worsening land degradation, climate change and loss of biodiversity puts roughly the health and well-being of half the world’s population at risk. Most at risk are children and women, Indigenous peoples and people living in areas most vulnerable to the impacts of environmental degradation and climate change.

2. How might our business activities affect the future of health and well-being?

In the lead up to the resolution, the WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission published “A future for the world’s children?” in 2020. The authors argue that despite dramatic improvements achieved in survival, nutrition and education of recent decades, today’s children face an uncertain future. They stated that government has a duty of care to protect the future of the world’s children across all sectors, citing Greta Thunberg’s famous quote: “I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” They also highlighted that women and children’s rights, health and well-being are inseparable, and that woman and child health intersect inseparably with planetary health. 

Where I am going with this is that human rights due diligence also needs to take a life-course and an intergenerational perspective. It starts with recognizing the very tenets of sustainability best articulated by Gro Harlem Brundtland: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Defending the right to a healthy and sustainable life

Across the world, we are seeing a growing number of human rights-based climate litigations against states as well as corporations, which take the perspective of the vulnerable and marginalized groups.

The court cases against Shell, Total and Bayer-Monsanto are well-known, but a few others are worth mentioning.

In Colombia, the Future Generations v. Ministry of the Environment and Others has garnered much attention because it directly links to the future of health for the next generation.

In Switzerland, a group that calls itself KlimaSeniorinnen — female climate seniors — have gone to court insisting that the Swiss government fulfill its obligations under the Paris Agreement on the basis that women over 75 have a proven elevated risk of death during extremely hot summers.

In Australia, in the case of Torres Trait Islanders versus Australia, Indigenous peoples from the low-lying Torres Strait Islands have sued the Australian government for violating its duty of care to take sufficient action to stop climate change. In the long term, climate change will cause the islands to disappear below the surface of the ocean, endangering their right to life, right to privacy and family life and the right of ethnic minorities to their culture. So stakeholders from many walks of life are taking legal action to defend their right to a healthy and sustainable life.

3. How are we engaging with those stakeholders who have most at stake?

These are most unprecedented times, and this calls for different measures. Most of all, it calls for a new way of thinking of the laws of economics with a new understanding and appreciation for the world, the human, natural and ecological resources we so deeply rely upon. 

Clearly, the change we are talking about here is massive and requires systems change and all-of-society approach. Most boards would caution not to attempt to “boil the ocean.” But the Ukraine crisis has lately taught us an important lesson: Any change starts by recognizing our level of accountability and by taking a visible stand.

A very important qualification of any business in this new and uncertain world is that of stakeholder engagement. It starts by viewing the groups with the biggest stakes in the risks not as opponents but as partners, and it puts the importance of diversity and inclusion in an entirely new light.

Women, for example, are increasingly seen as particularly vulnerable to climate change because of their biological, social, economic and cultural standing in the world. But they are not just victims.

As female leaders, business owners, entrepreneurs and workers, they are also important resources for climate adaptation strategies. They can become change agents for just, regenerative and inclusive economic development practices that put next generation needs at the core. 

Time to rethink the social dimension of ESG 

Human rights have always been at the heart of sustainable development, but in recent years a singular focus on environment and climate has sometimes been confused with sustainability.

Now is the time to put human rights back at the heart of ESG with a new and broadened understanding of our duty of care for the future of health and well-being for generations to come, and thus emphasizing the “S” in the many new shapes and forms that it might take in today’s turbulent world.

Read the article from Greenbiz here.

Lise Kingo featured in GreenBiz: 3 simple climate questions for your board going into 2022

Lise Kingo featured in GreenBiz: 3 simple climate questions for your board going into 2022

COP26 came and went: Some progress, many disappointments, few surprises. This has been much covered and discussed already. But despite the lack of ambitions and absence of key players, the commitment from progressive businesses and governments has the potential to unleash an unprecedented wave of investments in the global energy transition.   

Any business that plans to be in business 5-10-20-30 years from now needs to tackle this literally burning platform with a completely different sense of urgency. For non-executive directors, this means taking personal leadership and responsibility to support chief executives and their organizations in accelerating their net-zero transformation.

Science speaks volumes of the level of ambition required

The latest Climate Action Tracker, published at COP26, gives us a pretty good idea of what we are heading towards: With current policies, we’re shooting for a 2.7 degrees Celsius increase in global temperatures by 2050. By delivering on the 2030 targets, this will fall to 2.4 degrees C, and by fully implementing all submitted and binding targets we’re heading for a 2.1 degrees C scenario. In the right direction, yes. Yet, we’re still heading for disaster.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we need to keep global warming well below 1.5 degrees C. This half degree will make the difference from bad to catastrophic for billions of people, affecting lives and livelihoods. The past couple of years have already given us a flavor of what is in store: Extreme heat waves; floods; arctic winters; droughts; wildfires; and irreversible changes in the world’s ecosystems — it’s already happening. It’s no surprise that half of all CEOs (49 percent) state that supply chain interruptions due to climate change are among their top risks, according to a recent United Nations Global Compact-Accenture Strategy CEO report, “Climate Leadership in the Eleventh Hour.”

The headline board agenda item in 2022 is climate action

According to the Climate Action Tracker, the “glass half-full” version of the story is that if everyone delivers on their announced targets, we could deliver on a 1.8 degrees C scenario. That’s why the headline board agenda for 2022 should be how to accelerate from commitments to transformational action.

Also here the UN Global Compact-Accenture report gives food for thought: Because while more CEOs are committed to taking climate action, they are struggling to accelerate their climate ambitions.Companies working against science-based targets demonstrate real progress: From 2015 to 2019, they collectively reduced their annual CO2 emissions by 25%.

Fully 71 percent of CEOs say they are actively working to develop a net-zero emissions target for their company, and 57 percent believe they are operating in line with the 1.5 degrees C goal. Yet as an indicator, only 2 percent of these companies have a formal target validated by the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTI). In contrast, companies working against science-based targets demonstrate real progress: From 2015 to 2019, SBTI companies collectively reduced their annual CO2 emissions by 25 percent.

Scope 3 requires new stakeholder engagement skills

Scope 1 and 2 that focus on the company’s own operations and the energy supply are not simple, but CEOs find it particularly hard to deliver on Scope 3 of their emission targets. To broaden their net-zero impact throughout their supply chains, they need to work within their ecosystems of change, looking at competitors, policymakers, investors, providers and suppliers as stakeholders and partners. They need to join forces to improve traceability of their collective carbon footprint and agree on new incentive structures and price points to reward their collective progress towards net zero.

This is a hugely complex agenda. It bridges planetary, social and economic dimensions. It requires that we rethink leadership, governance and strategy so we create stakeholder value by default. It takes new capabilities and skillsets at the leadership level. At the board level, it starts by asking the right questions and by demonstrating the right level of support of senior management to steer the transformation through. But there is no other way.

Questions to take to the board in 2022

As you prepare for 2022, how about bringing along the following three questions for your next board meeting:

  1. Is ESG fully integrated into our overall business strategy and cascaded across the organization into transparent integrated reporting?
  2. Do we have a financed and operational net-zero climate strategy aligned with the Paris Agreement and 1.5 degrees C ambition for Scope 1, 2 and 3?
  3. Are we ready for the new company reporting requirements in the European Union complying with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD)?

The board has an important role in encouraging management to launch into the Race to Zero: This is a radical and transformational innovation agenda that needs full support and attention from every executive and non-executive director.

Read the article from GreenBiz here.

Lise Kingo featured in GreenBiz: What it really means to integrate ESG across the business

Lise Kingo featured in GreenBiz: What it really means to integrate ESG across the business

Everywhere I go there seems to be unanimous consensus that the answer to how to anchor ESG is integration: Fully integrating ESG in the business model of the company and ensuring that environmental, social and governance issues are considered across the board.

But the devil is always in the detail, so the question is what it really means to integrate ESG across the business. There might be many answers to this question, but in my mind, there is only one efficient way forward, which is a full and complete integration.

ESG starts with strategy, not with reporting

ESG must be anchored first at the strategic level in the purpose, governance and corporate strategy of the company. Next, it must be cascaded across the organization into research and development, production, quality management, training, remuneration and corporate finance, etc. Finally, it must be layered into stakeholder activities such as reporting, marketing and partnerships. Producing an integrated ESG report is great, as long as it is the means to the end — and not the other way around. Start with strategy, not with reporting.

Go for it fully or fail

ESG could be compared to digitalization, which emerged as the big new theme for boards and business executives 10 years ago. Just like ESG, digitalization does not work unless it is fully integrated into strategy, operations and company culture. Companies will not get return on investments unless full integration has succeeded. Top management needs to fully go for it 100 percent or else it will fail.

Where to anchor ESG governance

These days, one hot topic is how to best anchor ESG in the governance model. Some businesses are establishing a specific board sustainability committee; others are integrating climate change and sustainability into existing board committees such as the audit, nominations or governance committees, which is how a company such as Sanofi has decided to anchor the agenda.

Other companies are adjusting the annual wheel to ensure that more time is allocated on the main board to dig into ESG issues, which is the case for Aker Horizons in Norway, a planet positive investment company with an ambition to invest $117 billion in the energy transition before 2025. Companies including Unilever, Nike, Danone and Equinor that have had board sustainability committees for years are being followed by many other companies such as Covestro, which want to ensure that significant focus is spent on the sustainable business agenda.

Each solution might work very well, depending on the nature and strategy of the company. The main dilemma is to ensure that each company makes an informed choice and selects a model that is truly able to help drive the sustainability transformation of the business in the right direction fast.

The alpha and omega of this is whether the company at its highest level of governance has decided to go for a 100 percent full integration of ESG. If yes, you’re all set to go.

Read the article from GreenBiz here.

The meaning of integrating ESG

ESG has become the new black of corporate business. On the backdrop of the latest IPCC report from the UN, weather disasters during the recent months and with COP26 in Glasgow coming up in November, many executives and boards are grappling with how to anchor strategic thinking on climate change and sustainable business more broadly in their existing governance set up.

Everywhere I go there seems to be unanimous consensus that the answer to how to anchor ESG is integration: Fully integrating ESG in the business model of the company and ensuring that environmental, social and governance issues are considered across the board. But the devil is always in the detail, so the question is what it really means to integrate ESG across the business. There might be many answers to this question, but in my mind, there is only one efficient way forward which is a full and complete integration.

ESG starts with strategy – not with reporting

ESG must be anchored first at the strategic level in the purpose, governance and corporate strategy of the company. Next, cascaded across the organisation into R&D, production, quality management, training, remuneration, Corporate Finance, etc. And finally, into stakeholder activities such as reporting, marketing and partnerships. Producing an integrated ESG report is great, as long as it is the means to the end – and not the other way around. Start with strategy – not with reporting.

Go for it 100%, or fail

ESG could be compared to digitalisation that emerged as the big new theme for boards and business executives 10 years ago. Just like ESG, digitalisation does not work unless it is fully integrated into strategy, operations, and company culture. Companies will not get return on investments unless full integration has succeeded. Top Management needs to fully go for it 100%, or else it will fail.

Where to anchor ESG governance

These days one of the hot topics is how to best anchor ESG in the governance model. Some businesses are establishing a specific board sustainability committee, others are integrating climate change and sustainability into existing board committees such as the audit, nominations, or governance committees. Other companies are adjusting the annual wheel to ensure that more time is allocated on the main board to dig into ESG issues.

Each of these solutions might work very well, depending on the nature and strategy of the company.

The main point is to ensure that each company makes an informed choice and selects a model that is truly able to help drive the sustainability transformation of the business in the right direction fast. The alfa and omega of this is if the company – at its highest level of governance – has decided to go for a 100% full integration of ESG – or not. If yes, you’re all set to go.

Read the full article on LinkedIn here.

Leading in a fundamentally changing world

“What is responsible leadership?

That’s the big question that takes center stage at the recent annual conference hosted by Imperial College Business School. It is the first time I have spoken in my capacity as chair of the advisory board of Imperial’s new Leonardo Centre, a research facility for sustainable business, which will formally launch in June. With this cross-disciplinary, multi-faculty and stakeholder-oriented center of excellence, the Leonardo Centre is setting out to explore what defines the new logic of business enterprise and the new type of responsible business leadership the world needs in this Decade of Action.

I am stepping into this role in the hope that we can close the gap between rhetoric and action and promote a radical rethink of the role of board directors and C-suite leaders as drivers for sustainable change.”

Read the full article from GreenBiz here.

In need of a new Renaissance

In need of a new Renaissance

I was educated in the classics – in Greek and Roman culture and philosophy. That’s likely why the renaissance has always fascinated me. The renaissance marked a rediscovery of Greek and Roman ideals, including the writings of Roman stateman, philosopher and scholar Cicero, who spoke of the moral duty of the state to govern in harmony with the universal principles of nature, and in accordance with the principles of equality, liberty and rule of law – principles that have inspired modern democracies and provided the tenets of the United Nations.   

The human race is extraordinary for its resilience. In fact, throughout the ages, some of the greatest leaps forward for humanity have happened after deep and enduring crises.

The renaissance took off from the devastating impacts of the bubonic plague. It was a rebirth of knowledge and reason and changed the world in just about every way we can think. To make sense of the world – of light and shadow, the human anatomy, the laws of gravity, of cosmos and how we fit in: The coming together of art, philosophy and science collectively pushed the boundaries of what we know and what we can achieve.

It’s time for a re-birth of knowledge and reason

I am hopeful that while COVID-19 has rocked our foundation as a global community, it has also brought a new sense of enlightenment: Of the urgent need to transform the way we consume, invest and live together as a global society. 

We need a return to knowledge and reason anchored in the laws of nature and founded on the principles of putting every person’s freedoms and rights first. Importantly, we need to come together with a new sense of discovery and curiosity in search of new logics of enterprise. These new logics need to establish that economies thrive when humanity thrives. That humanity can only prosper when the planet and everything living thrives. That the success of all of us hinges upon our ability to leave no one behind. That business wins when society wins.

We are at an inflection point

I am by nature an optimist: I truly believe that we are at an inflection point. Just last week, the G7 leaders met in Cornwall to accelerate their ambitions for climate, nature and a resilient global economy that will deliver prosperity and wellbeing for all people. They emphasized the power of democracy, freedom, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights to answer the biggest questions and overcome the greatest challenges.

This is a return to reason and a wake-up call. In the lead-up to COP26, many of the world’s largest and most influential businesses are committing to decarbonize their value and supply chains. And investors and stakeholders are challenging the greatest CO2 emitters to significantly raise their ambition.

A crucial role for science and learning

In a fast-changing world, we need to learn fast. Collectively.

That’s also why now is the time for academic institutions to step up. They need to help us challenge the status quo, to point us in the direction of the next horizon of possibilities. Conversely, academia needs to bring the experience and pragmatism of business into their labs. Together, we can discover a new logic of enterprise that can catalyze capitalism and economic systems to deliver the world we want. We can experiment to make business models circular, regenerative, net-zero and socially inclusive. And we can shape the leadership ideals that embody the values and traits which can accelerate the transformation.

The Leonardo Centre on Business for Society

Leonardo da Vinci said: “Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else”.

This week, Imperial College London are launching their new Leonardo Centre on Business for Society. Not surprisingly, renaissance-man Leonardo da Vinci has inspired this new initiative. 

The Leonardo Centre is an open invitation to the most pioneering and forward-looking businesses to de-learn and re-learn how to see the role of business in a changing world; to co-create and experiment together with some of the world’s leading minds and innovators in search for new practices and solutions. The Centre will provide a strong platform for combining business experience and scientific research in search of new logics of enterprise for the world want.

As the Chair of the Advisory Board of Leonardo, I am excited about the mission of the Centre, and grateful to the leadership of Imperial for their vision and foresight. I am convinced that initiatives like these, born out of the academic tradition, could spark a new renaissance of knowledge and reason anchored in universal humanistic values.

Read the full article on LinkedIn here.

ESG has become a strategic leadership agenda

“These days many global executives are waking up to a new ESG reality: investors and shareholders expect them to better manage their ESG risks as systemic conditions for their companies in a changing world; stakeholders reward brands that proactively contribute to fairer, more sustainable and regenerative futures, and legislators require businesses to disclose how.”

Read the full article here.

Lise Kingo joins the Supervisory Board at Covestro

Lise Kingo joins the Supervisory Board at Covestro

Lise Kingo is honoured and delighted to join the Supervisory Board at Covestro: “I have known Covestro for several years as a very inspiring role model for how to integrate sustainability into business strategy. I am honoured to bring my expertise and help take the company to the next level of implementing a fully circular business strategy.”

Read more here.

The time has come for climate competent Board Directors

There is never a dull moment in the board room. The world is changing at an incredible pace and in the midst of the pandemic, global executives are ranking climate change the most serious societal threat to their business over the next decade according to Deloitte, the WEF Risk Report and many other sources.

Read the full blogpost from Boards Impact Forum here.