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An ESG journey

10th May 2024

In this series of short insights into Sustainability and ESG (Environmental Social Governance), we have focused on what ESG is, why it’s important, forthcoming regulations, and what actions SMEs and owner managed business can take to strengthen their positions around it. This final article is a short summary of Bishop Fleming’s ESG journey, or ‘Responsible Business’ as we refer to it. 

Framework 

As an organisation we have always had a culture of doing the right thing. For over 12 years we have measured key environmental performance indicators, as well as implemented a range of engaging initiatives such as the frenzy of community activity in our 2019 centenary year.

As we emerged from the Covid pandemic, we were keen to build momentum but also realised that the world had shifted – our clients, our people, and our community stakeholders have become increasingly interested in the why and how we do things, rather than just what we do as accountants.

Our challenge was therefore to better articulate our ambition “to be the most rewarding accountancy firm for our clients, people and communities,” whilst at the same time integrating our five core values into daily business.    

Joining Business in the Community (BITC) as an active member in 2021 has given us a framework from which we have been able to focus on the key elements of ESG and align our strategy to key United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Central to this framework is a recognition that a responsible business needs to be underpinned by good governance, positively engage with community stakeholders, suppliers, and employees, and be guided by a strong set of values and sense of purpose.  

Benchmark 

Like any journey, it is important to know where you’re starting from. BITC’s Responsible Business Tracker® tool has provided us with a comprehensive performance assessment and robust validation process across the three pillars of Health Business, Healthy Communities, and Healthy Environment. Tracker® is aligned with the UN SDGs, and delivers gap analysis, scoring and benchmarking against peer members organisations, as well as recommendations and recognition of good practice.

We have now undertaken two Tracker® exercises some 18 months apart and are encouraged to have increased our overall score by 140%, as well as risen above our cohort averages in virtually all metrics. Our Tracker® score is now a KPI and a source of reference across the three core pillars.    

Engagement  

A key part of our responsible business journey is to engage with our stakeholders, and to listen to their feedback. Establishing workgroups with our people across Health & Wellbeing, Inclusion & Diversity, and Environment has helped to use the Tracker® feedback and focus on incremental actions. Examples include enhanced Paternity Leave, creating a Women’s Development Programme, and a range of initiatives under social, mental, physical, and financial wellbeing.  

This has contributed to being re-certified as a Great Place to Work® by the Best Workplaces Programme, as well as being listed in the UK’s Best Workplaces for Women™ for large organisations.

Our Engage client listening programme has also helped shape our interaction with our clients, as well as implement improved processes to enhance communications with them.

We regard engagement in community projects as a core part of our responsible business ethos. Our people are encouraged to undertake volunteering and fundraising activities of their choice, as well as invest time in positions of responsibility on committees, community groups, trusts, and charities.  

Bringing our teams together to work in the community not only benefits local charity and community groups but stimulates our people’s engagement and improves overall health and mental wellbeing. We’ve identified this as a key area to focus on and are working hard to encourage all employees by organising team events such as beach and litter cleans through environmental charity, Surfers Against Sewage. Our local office teams have also been active in a variety of fundraising activities for the six regional charities that we’ve partnered with to raise a collective total of £50,000 in our current financial year.

Investment  

Since 2020 we’ve been recognised as a ‘Partner in Learning’ with the ICAEW for our apprenticeship programme and hold Platinum status for training and development with the ACCA. Ranked 40th in the 2023 Top 100 Apprenticeship Employers in the UK, each year we recruit around 70 new apprentices – social mobility is a key factor in this strategy with 40% joining us straight from school rather than university last year.

To help integrate our core values into our day to day business operations, we now appraise our people on their activity around these as part of the quarterly performance measurement process. This has helped to reinforce how we can be a responsible business by doing the small things as well as the larger initiatives. This is an important message as it helps ensure all our people have a role to play in this journey, not just senior management.

We’ve also invested in making responsible business a ‘thing’ by creating a new full-time management position to give responsible business a louder voice both internally and externally. 

Transparency   

Using Peter Drucker’s tenet “what gets measured gets managed,” a key part of our ESG journey has focused on better understanding our environmental impact by measuring our Scopes 1,2 and 3 carbon footprint annually and having it independently verified by our partners, Net Zero Now.  

Our footprint currently stands at 1245.5 tCO2e. Whilst we have managed to significantly reduce our Scopes 1 and 2 emissions, our challenge now is to reduce Scope 3 whilst at the same time pursuing an ambitious growth strategy. Understanding what lies behind our footprint has helped to focus on long-term plans but it’s also important to celebrate the small wins such as increasing engagement with our people through regular comms and webinars, implementing a local and sustainable procurement policy, and reducing plastic waste.

In addition to the Responsible Business Hub on our website, since 2022 we have also published an annual Impact Report highlighting actions, objectives, and performance against KPIs. The Impact Report holds us publicly accountable – a key element to being a responsible business.  

Looking to the Future 

As highlighted in this series of insights, regulations around ESG, a change in market perceptions, and expectations of existing and future employees are all increasing the prominence of ESG and sustainability in boardrooms.

These developments will present both challenges and opportunities for us and our clients. We look to embrace these, continuing our activity with BITC, collaborating and learning from their peer member group, setting sustainable objectives and goals, and sharing progress in our 3rd annual Impact Report, which will be shared with all our stakeholders in the Autumn 2024. 

If you are interested in understanding more about our responsible business journey or how we might support you in yours, contact Fleur Lewis, partner and responsible business lead, or visit our Responsible Business Hub

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