General Counsel and Company Secretary "Connect": ESG - who's doing what in the race to realise value


Before getting to the end of another term, breaking up for Christmas and furiously pounding the streets (okay, Amazon Prime) in the last minute dash for a half respectable present to give to my wife, I was delighted to meet with a small group of General Counsel and Company Secretaries in Leeds, where I hosted the third in the new series of “Connect” Drinks, Dinner and Discussion.


Being married to a lady from the North East of England and a regular and passionate visitor to Cornwall, I am keen to make sure that “Connect” delivers on its title, is inclusive and provides a regional opportunity for General Counsel and Company Secretaries to interact with their peer group, sharing thoughts, issues and solutions and helping to grow careers and businesses.


So after defrosting and refuelling at the Leeds Crafthouse restaurant, the focus topic for the evening was “ESG – who’s doing what in the race to realise value”.


As with DE&I (the focus of my last “Connect”), the thesis is that we have come along way in the field of ESG since I became a GC and Co Sec in 2010.  The “G” has long been there and is well developed, but the importance of the “E” and the “S”, and their interaction with the “G” is rapidly evolving since the first CSR policies were published all those moons ago.


With TCFD reporting now mandatory for premium listed and large companies, and mandatory for all from 2025, I am grateful to my guests for opening their (hopefully warmly lined) kimonos to share what is - or is not - going on inside their organisations….much like COP28, it was no surprise perhaps that there was a great divergence in approach, predictably driven by the size, financial position, nature and maturity of the business – or just shareholder-management assessment on financial ROI.


Is it surprise though, or should we be concerned, that feedback from recent discussions with well placed senior sources at several of the country’s largest businesses, is that their ESG strategy still remains “unclear”, “in development” or “lacking alignment”. Given there is now an estimated $40 trillion of global capital in so called “green funds” (let’s leave how “green” those funds are for another day…), maybe this is a surprise.


Maybe not so much though then when, notwithstanding the headline progress made at COP28, reports surrounding the conference were of side-line oil and gas BD meetings between some of the world’s richest nations. Or when one reflects on how we are perhaps living in the most fragile and febrile geopolitical environment since the end of the second world war.


I was hearted though that the “Connect” discussion on ESG was keenly approached and engaged in by the GCs and Co Secs present, I think recognising that as is so often the case, they hold a unique position in an organisation to help influence what goes on the agenda and so often do care as “conscience of the company”.


Amongst other things, it was good to touch on ESG strategy, reporting, board engagement and ESG committees, analytics, ratings, different ESG advisor offerings, internal resource, budgets, access to ESG capital, shareholder drivers and how important ESG is for attracting, incentivising, motivating, engaging and/or retaining all sorts of other stakeholders, including an organisation’s valuable workforce who increasingly want to work for a business with strong ESG credentials.


The evening was fulsome, and could have gone on much later. Plainly, many organisations are at the very early stages of the ESG journey and there is plenty to learn, but I hope that connecting with peer group members, and sharing experiences in some small way helps.


If you are a General Counsel or Company Secretary and would like to find out more about what I and Major, Lindsey & Africa are doing to help grow careers, businesses and legal and company secretarial teams, please do get in touch.


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