ESG for schools?

ESG For schools?
Adopting an Environmental Social Governance code at school

Lisa Walsh thinks that the adoption of Environmental Social Governance codes by an increasing number of companies could – and should – be an example for school Boards.

 Time to reflect

As we look back on the past year, we are beginning to assess the impact that Covid has had and to think through its legacy. In education, trends are emerging as a result of the online experience, but what else has the pandemic taught us?  How have our perceptions and attitudes shifted?  Is it time to re-evaluate our priorities?  Our values? Our ethical and social obligations, both as individuals and as a school, perhaps?

Heightened awareness of the natural world

There is little doubt that lockdown has made us more aware of what we have missed, and what we may have taken for granted. And we have missed being outside, becoming aware of the natural world in a way that pre-Covid, urbanised, air-conditioned and carbon-fuelled society was not. And if we could not get our fix of outdoor life in the flesh during lockdown, we have had Sir David Attenborough’s A Perfect Planet to turn to.


And the message Sir David has given has been all too clear. It’s not too late, but it’s time for radical change.

This heightened awareness has coincided with a time, not only when Greta Thunberg was shaming the world, but also when a less obvious movement could be seen stirring in the business and finance sectors (of all places!), which perhaps deserves attention, and of which schools might be usefully aware during a period of reflection.

Environmental Social Governance (ESG)

In the UK, since the Bank of England demanded a climate risk response from major financial groups to measure the impact of global warning, the introduction of ESG Codes of practice has gathered pace. As of February 2020, more than 1,000 organisations, representing a market capitalisation of over $16.7 trillion and controlling assets of $138 trillion, had pledged their support. You can listen to aspects of the business case being made in a Harvard Business Review article here: https://hbr.org/podcast/2019/05/why-its-time-to-finally-worry-about-esg

It works domestically and internationally with industry, government, regulators and other central banks to promote the adoption of TCFD (Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures) to improve the quality of climate disclosures.

Background to the TCFD:

 

Whether or not ESG turns out to be window dressing, unlike ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’, it can be measured, and greater transparency in corporate governance aspect is surely to be welcomed.   And there are other forces at work, with retail companies increasingly called out for selling products that depend on child labour, and giants like Royal Dutch Shell facing a shareholder revolt if the Board fails to move the company to a greener future.

ESG and school governance

What does the ESG movement  mean for schools? Students and teachers are surely among the most environmentally aware social groups in the world, and environmental education has long been a staple of the curriculum.  But, does the gathering momentum of the ESG movement offer a new opportunity to be taken on at another level – particularly when it comes to School Governance? If we examine school guiding statements, how many are really environmentally and socially driven? To what extent are decisions made in a way that reflects a wider set of responsibilities? With school Boards increasingly likely to be populated by members who are aware of, influenced by and motivated by ESG commitments, are we approaching a time when their views are about to be added to younger voices in a school community expressing wider environmental and social concerns?

If so, how might we see Board and Leadership debates widened? Perhaps to include issues of social and environmental  due diligence, or to prefer suppliers who abide by an ESG code of practice?  Transparency is a top talking point currently and with the business world waking up to the fact that we have to better ourselves, better our processes, to respect each and every part of our planet including its residents, wherever they live, these are surely school Board conversations whose time has come.

And the community will demand it – just as surely as those Royal Dutch Shell shareholders have. Teachers, parents and the children themselves will want to see that their school performs morally, ethically and consciously. Younger generations want to know their future is heading in the right direction and they now have the opportunity to be included in the journey.

Examples for us to follow

And there are some great models out there for schools to follow. Take Galileo Global Education, for example, a leading, international provider of higher education, and Europe’s largest privately owned education group. They focus on and work towards four key moral codes:  exercising good governance; enhancing students’ experience; fostering wellbeing and inclusion and running sustainable campuses and offices. Their ESG report for 2019 – 2020 gives food for thought. Members of the Council of British International Schools might also be aware that COBIS has sought and been awarded the Planet Mark Certification in June 2020.  Perhaps individual schools might follow suit and make a similar commitment?

Time for an ESG discussion on the Board

The one thing all schools have in common is that they are teaching future generations,  generations who will be occupying a planet whose future will be, to a greater or lesser extent, influenced by discussions in Board Rooms around the world right now, and that includes School Board rooms. If the debate is not happening, that will have consequences: ignoring climate change effectively means that a school will exist in an environment accelerating to a future in which today’s students will struggle with rising sea levels, air pollution, sea pollution, and of course, global warming sooner rather than later.

Members sitting on school boards must be accountable for planning their ESG strategy.  What is their commitment to the planet?  What is their pledge?  Children all around the world will be chomping at the bit to be involved with this because, just like Greta, they want (and deserve) a brighter future devoid of child labour, exploitation, corruption and worse.  We need to inspire our children and earn their respect.

Governance revolution?

School Governors link schools to wider business, NGO, municipal, regional and national government communities. Many sit on corporate boards. If they become fully committed to a school-based ESG code,  adding their weight to the youthful passion of teachers and students, environmental and social awareness will take on a new dimension and perhaps be the start of a school governance revolution.

And if Covid has given us pause to think in this way, there’s another silver lining.

Lisa Walsh leads Sales and Customer Experience at Schoolserve.com, a new platform that facilitates a simple online tendering process for international schools.  She is the company lead on Environmental, Social & Governance codes, working closely with schools and suppliers who advocate and deploy clear ESG guidelines within their organisations. 

You can read the SchoolServe ESG statement here.

If you would like to talk to Lisa about any aspect of school-related procurement or an ESG approach, she can be contacted on lisa.walsh@schoolserve.com

Further reading from:

McKinsey & Co: 5 ways that ESG creates value

https://www.london.edu/think/board-members-must-be-accountable-for-esg-standards

Feature Image:  by cubicroot from Pixabay