This week, Morningstar partnered with Nasdaq to bring the second annual Future of Corporate Sustainability discussion to life. Over 100 Midwest professionals joined a discussion about the most critical challenges and opportunities impacting sustainability strategy, investment, and communications. We were joined by speakers from diverse sectors, including finance, healthcare, and technology and leading firms in sustainability, including Northern Trust, Adobe, Stryker, and Edelman Smithfield.
Speakers, attendees, and panelists agreed: the role of corporate sustainability leaders is evolving fast. Expectations have changed; the conditions for business success have shifted and there has never been a brighter spotlight on the potential of sustainability offices to influence corporate strategy. Morningstar CEO Kunal Kapoor observed that education and a deep understanding of ESG data remain critical to all industries, particularly as public scrutiny intensifies.
Discussions kicked off with an examination of the important relationship between finance and sustainability offices. Jason Dubinsky (CFO, Morningstar) and Jason Tyler (CFO, Northern Trust) joined Eileen Buckley (VP, ESG Strategy, Stryker) and Nina Eisenman (Head of Corporate ESG Strategy, Nasdaq) explored the critical role that finance, accounting, and reporting plays and the ways in which CFOs are influencing sustainability strategy.
Randall Hopkins, Global Head of ESG Solutions at Nasdaq highlighted just these kinds of relationships, observing that sustainability is the new “team sport.” He noted that 60% of ESG decision-makers recently surveyed by Nasdaq ranked reporting to standards and regulatory requirements as the 1st or 2nd most significant challenge they face.
The common theme of collaboration characterized the rest of the day’s conversations. Deidra Jenkins (Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer at Northern Trust) and Arlean Johnson (Adobe) referenced the continuing importance of investment in employee network groups to amplify a sense of belonging for employees. They also emphasized the importance of demonstrating the potential of those groups to influence corporate strategy and drive value for the firm.
Leaders in firm level climate programs sat with Alicia White (Morningstar Sustainalytics) to talk about what investors need to see from corporates when it comes to robust and credible work in decarbonization. Lauren Densham (Energize Ventures), Monica Ferrer (Equity LifeStyle Properties) and Clarence Mingo (Lancaster Colony) provided guidance on how to stay abreast of the surge in new climate data and reporting systems—and how to separate signal from noise.
Ease in reporting, clear language, and cross-firm coordination are hurdles for sustainability leaders, to be sure. But communications leaders from a wide range of industries, including Teresa Davies (Slalom), Lane Jost (Edelman), Arielle Patrick (Ariel Investments), and Mike Rozembajgier (Stericycle) agreed there’s a fix: Communications teams, with their deep understanding of stakeholders, should have a big voice in setting sustainability strategy.
As Morningstar CEO, Kunal Kapoor, put it “firms that will continue to drive progress are those that can integrate sustainability thinking into all aspects of their business.”