August 4, 2023

Challenges for BANES businesses in developing an ESG Strategy

The growing importance of embedding an ESG strategy in your organisation.

Challenges for BANES businesses in developing an ESG Strategy

We work with many organisations who are eager to start their Environmental Social Governance (ESG) journey, but just don’t know where to begin. We’ve written before about what ESG is, but the complexities surrounding ESG are vast, so the question for many is; how do you introduce initiatives to businesses that will have a positive impact, but in a way that is sustainable for the long-term?

Working in partnership with Action Net Zero, who empower communities to address the climate crisis and reach net zero, we witness the challenges local businesses are facing first-hand. For this reason, we approached the Bath & North East Somerset Business Show with a proposal to introduce ESG topics to the agenda.

In a combined effort to accelerate positive change, we partnered with the University of Bath, Bath & North East Somerset (BANES) Council and the West of England Combined Authority to shape the conversation at this year’s show.

On the first day of the show, which took place in June, we led a round table discussion with key businesses, officials and spokespeople in BANES to bridge the gap between academia, large industry, and government. University of Bath’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian White and Dan Norris, Metro Mayor for the West of England Combined Authority led the discussion.

The following day we presented the Large Business Forum (LBF), hosted by The University of Bath School of Management, bringing industry leaders together to emphasise the importance of ESG for business.

Bridging the say-do gap with a sustainable strategy based on action

The round table event focused on three key themes: 

  1. Closer collaboration and faster decision-making among academia, industry, and government.
  2. Addressing talent attraction and considering retention challenges.
  3. Bridging the critical shortage of STEM and digital skills in the region 

The round table was facilitated by TV Presenter Alastair Greener, with experts from a range of backgrounds and industries:

Professor Ian White – Vice Chancellor, University of Bath

Dan Norris – Metro Mayor, West of England Combined Authority

Professor Jonathan Knight – Vice-President (Enterprise), University of Bath

Neil Mehta – General Manager, Edwards Vacuum and Managing Director, Channel Consulting Ltd

Veronica Hannon – Co-founder and Director, Transform ESG

Pam Barbato – Founder and Director, Action Net Zero

Guy Thompson – Group Director, Environmental Futures, Wessex Water

Claire Smith – Partner, Buro Happold

Simon Gould – Programme Director, BMT

Professor Andrew Heath – Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering, University of Bath

Professor Chris Brace – Executive Director, IAAPS

The round table discussion served as a platform to bridge the gap between academia, large industry, and government, facilitating a comprehensive dialogue that leveraged the unique perspectives and expertise of each participant. By bringing together stakeholders from diverse backgrounds, the round table sought to develop a holistic understanding of the complex ESG landscape and lay the groundwork for effective, sustainable solutions, supporting Net Zero targets. Key to all of this is developing an understanding of how we can connect the needs of today with plans for the future.

Accelerating sustainable change in the region is reliant upon having the right skills for the right jobs, providing resilience of supply chain for sustainable products and services to be mobilised across the region. Whether that is enough bus drivers to support new initiatives like Westlink, enough retrofit skills to decarbonise our housing stock, or enough Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) skills to meet demands of the green economy.

What became evident through the discussions is the need to collectively shine a light on the initiatives, funding and opportunities that the South West is already offering, while helping organisations build confidence in developing their own ESG business strategy. With a view to the future, to address the workforce and skills gap shortage of people with STEM and digital skills, we must focus on how to retain graduates and young people in the region, and upskill existing workforces to meet demand.

Other themes that surfaced included the development of community energy projects, finding a way for major employers to have their voices heard by policy makers in Government, and introducing new, innovative building practices within the region.

Showcasing Real-World ESG Solutions

Over thirty business leaders from a variety of sectors in the South West came together at the Large Business Forum (LBF) to connect and collaborate with others who share a commitment to ESG principles. Experts shared insights, discussed the benefits of different ESG approaches and frameworks, and highlighted the value that ESG brings to businesses.

The LBF focused on three central themes to drive sustainable change:

  1. Closer Collaboration: Participants highlighted the need for enhanced collaboration and accelerated decision-making between academia, industry, and government to target research and development resources more effectively.
  2. Skills Demands and Talent Attraction: The forum delved into the challenges of attracting and retaining talent in the region, particularly in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and digital fields, to meet the demands of sustainable innovation and economic growth.
  3. Overcoming Barriers: Panellists discussed various barriers to sustainable progress and identified short and long-term goals to tackle these challenges effectively.

Two riveting panel sessions provided real-world examples and invaluable insights into the practical applications of ESG approaches and frameworks.

The panel discussion on Creating Carbon-Neutral Thriving Communities brought forth the significance of external engagement in driving sustainable initiatives, highlighting the transformative power of collaborative partnerships. 

The second session included insights from three major employers. Richard Twinn from Buro Happold shared some of the frameworks and action plans from their ESG work internationally. Dan Green from Wessex Water demonstrated the complexity of operating within a highly regulated market and the myriad of different frameworks that can be applied. Neil Mehta, General Manager of Edwards Vacuum, who employs 800 people in Clevedon shared their ESG programme aligned with the Science Based Targets Initiative. 

Notable Highlights from the Large Business Forum

Collaborative Partnerships: One of the key aims of the LBF was to encourage collaboration. Attendees had the opportunity to connect with peers, industry leaders, and experts in the field of ESG, engaging in meaningful discussions, exchanging ideas, and exploring potential collaborations to drive positive change within their organisation and the wider community.

Inspirational Speakers: Renowned experts shared their experiences and insights into innovative approaches to sustainability, demonstrating that sustainable practices and profitability are not mutually exclusive. These stimulating discussions motivated and empowered attendees to implement change within their own spheres of influence.

The Ripple Effect: The impact of this successful ESG event extended far beyond the university walls. By fostering connections, disseminating knowledge, and inspiring action, the LBF catalysed a ripple effect that will reverberate through industries in the South West. A renewed sense of purpose and a strengthened commitment to integrating ESG practices into business will contribute to a greener, more inclusive future.

The level of engagement was phenomenal and it was positive to hear how far some organisations already were on their ESG journey. The hunger and desire from businesses to start actioning what they had learnt was incredible — the event opened people’s minds to the power of collaboration to create tangible change. 

We were so pleased to hear the enthusiasm for us to run more of these events in the future and look forward to continued networking with BANES businesses to create a better future for all.

As we move forward, we are committed to fostering collaboration, addressing skills shortages, and overcoming barriers to accelerate sustainable change in the region.

We extend our sincere gratitude to all speakers for their valuable contribution:

Alastair Greener – TV Presenter

Sophie Broadfield – CEO / Director of Sustainable Communities, Bath & North East Somerset Council 

Steve Brammer – Dean of the School of Management, University of Bath

Pam Barbato – Founder, Action Net Zero

Veronica Hannon – Co-founder and Director, Transform ESG

Daniel O'Connor – Co-founder and Director, Transform ESG

Dan Green – Head of Sustainability and Innovation, Wessex Water

Claire Smith – Partner, Buro Happold

Jake Rigby – Head of Research and Development, BMT

Jackie Clayton – Head of Green Transformation, Bath & North East Somerset Council 

Sophie Spencer – Senior Environment Manager – Nature Recovery, West of England Combined Authority 

Richard Twinn – Associate, Buro Happold 

Neil Mehta – General Manager, Edwards Vacuum and Managing Director, Channel Consulting Ltd