Business reputation depends on filling the net-zero void left by wavering governments

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Partner and ESG communications specialist Katherine Howbrook discusses how businesses must lead the charge following the government’s decision to backtrack on its ESG commitments.

The UK government’s decision to water down its green pledges serves as a wake-up call for business. Now, more than ever, all businesses, including law and professional services firms advising clients on ESG issues, must lead the charge towards sustainability and social responsibility.

Once seen as a global leader in the race towards a net-zero future, we’re now seeing the UK backtracking on its ambitious targets. The government’s move to weaken its net-zero commitments not only raises eyebrows and concerns about the fate of climate action, it also sends a dangerous signal to the corporate world.

Our house is still on fire, and organisations must seize the opportunity to become the driving force behind turning the climate crisis around. Professional services firms and their clients across all industries know they can make a difference, and by doubling down on their commitments to sustainability, they can help fill the void left by wavering governments.

Focusing on ESG credentials isn’t just generating good headlines and column inches; it’s about putting reputation front and centre of business strategies, while creating a sustainable, resilient future. Firms that make meaningful strides in reducing their environmental impact and fostering social responsibility are better equipped to weather the storms of uncertainty and change. This commitment not only benefits the planet, but also strengthens a company’s long-term viability.

Why should businesses step it up a gear, when the government is backtracking?

Building trust and credibility: Environmentally and socially conscious businesses send a clear signal to stakeholders that they prioritise responsible business practices. By embracing sustainability, treating employees fairly, and upholding ethical governance, trust and credibility is built and maintained with customers, investors, and the public. Without trust and credibility, there is no reputation.

Competitive advantage and employer brand: Strengthening ESG credentials will also give businesses a competitive edge, as well as bolster their arsenal in the war on talent. As customers and jobseekers become more socially and environmentally conscious, they are flocking towards companies that align with their values. Our 2023 report, What Lies Ahead [insert link], revealed that recruitment and retention alongside close monitoring of the global political and economic situation were the main issues legal sector leaders identified as threats in 2023 and beyond. So it is a reminder that strong ESG credentials will be a critical weapon in the battle for the most important law firm resource of all – talent. 

Resilience: The climate crisis is no longer a distant threat – we are already dealing with its effects and it’s a clear and present danger. Extreme weather events, supply chain disruptions, and resource scarcity are all on the rise. Businesses that focus on ESG measures are better positioned to adapt to these challenges, ensuring their long-term survival and success.

The bottom line

In a world where government commitments to sustainability can waver, it falls upon the shoulders of businesses to lead the way. Their legal and business advisors must help them navigate through the challenges and walk the talk themselves. 

By safeguarding their reputation as an ethical leader in a world hungry for meaningful change, companies that prioritise environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and sound governance are better equipped to not only survive, but thrive. 

Katherine is an ESG communications specialist who was formerly Head of Media at Business in the Community – The UK’s largest and most influential responsible business network dedicated to building a fairer and greener world, supported by His Majesty the King for over 40 years.

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