Andrew Eppich is the managing director for Equinix Canada, the world’s digital infrastructure company.
In the last several years, environmental catastrophes and increasingly stark social divides have shifted global perspective and ingrained a renewed sense of global responsibility – few places more significantly than in boardrooms and businesses. ESG (environmental, social, governance) strategies have quickly become a powerful tool for leaders to demonstrate good corporate citizenship, and how they are helping to make a positive impact within the communities they operate in. It turns out, good deeds are also good for business, but they take time and attention.
A report from Bain & Co and EcoVadis found connections between sustainability and business results in the areas of sustainable supply chain, renewable energy, employee satisfaction and DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion). In addition to benefiting the planet and society, the research found that successful ESG activities are associated with encouraging revenue growth and EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) margins. Additionally, from an employee retention standpoint, sustainability and DEI programs provide employees with a sense of belonging – showing them they are part of something bigger, part of an ecosystem of impact.
Companies are now under increased pressure from employees and external stakeholders including investors, regulators, customers, partners and community members to do more to demonstrate their commitments to sustainability and DEI. But there are new challenges businesses are facing when developing and implementing their programs.
According to Equinix’s recently released Tech Talent data from its 2023 Global Tech Trends report, the majority of Canada’s IT leaders (52 per cent) have continued to struggle improving diversity and inclusion within their teams. Additionally, nearly a quarter of leaders (21 per cent) are now prioritizing candidates with skills to drive sustainability progress within their organization as they are feeling increased pressure to meet sustainability targets.
Ultimately, this pressure is a good thing. It forces businesses to think outside-of-the-box on how they approach these challenges – both internally and externally. Externally, the general public, partners and community leaders have higher expectations for businesses to demonstrate how they are making a positive impact in the communities they operate in. Internally, leaders and investors are looking for innovative ways to reducing operational expenses such as power usage by leveraging more efficient processes or technologies. Sustainable innovations today can benefit both the wider community, as well as a company’s bottom-line, tomorrow.
For example, we recently announced an initiative that repurposes excess heat from our data centres for community use, including heating surrounding buildings and water supplies. The program allows us to be more efficient in our temperature management, while providing the local community with access to affordable sources of heat.
Make your ESG strategies count – literally
The key to any successful ESG strategy is starting small and integrating metric-based success benchmarks from day one. Including both DEI and sustainability components can feel daunting, which is why it can help to look to other organizations as aspirational guideposts. But remember, every company culture is distinct, so be sure to view everything in the lens of what makes the most sense for your business and community. Tailoring a program that is authentic to the corporate culture and your employees is key.
Metrics can help because they give tangible feedback and insights into what is and isn’t working, but they need to be implemented in tandem with the program itself. Setting and tracking against representation metrics can help leaders understand the composition and experience of all identity groups within their workforces. For global businesses, it’s important to understand and take into account the regional nuances when setting metrics. By tracking the progress of concrete representation metrics against aspirational representation goals, leaders can understand a company’s progress and trajectory of its DEI programs.
For sustainability commitments, begin by looking at institutional bodies guiding the discussion globally. For businesses that operate in multiple countries, global groups such as the UN and its climate control mandates have spent a lot of time and energy framing the problem and examining concrete steps organizations across different industries can take. Aligning with global accords such as the Paris Climate Agreement can help businesses set science-based commitments that are transparent, measurable and most importantly, actionable.
Once you have a rough idea of what you would like your organization’s program to achieve, internalize the goals to make sure they are a fit from an accountability perspective. This involves getting buy-in from leaders, employees and external partners and gives you the opportunity to fuse and filter components to determine metrics that are realistic, measurable and reflect the business’s voice.
Successful ESG programs that drive profitable results need to be woven into the core of the organization. Because employees are the heartbeat that drive DEI and sustainability programs, it’s important to connect success to business performance to incentivize participation, such as through charitable matching or paid time off for sustainability or community engagement opportunities.
I’ve previously written about Equinix’s partnership with World Pulse, a global, online community that connects and amplifies women’s voices, as well as provides digital empowerment training. Helping to close the digital divide’s gender disparity by empowering women with digital skills and resources, is a cause that’s championed by our more than 12,000 employees around the globe. But for this kind of partnership to be successful, it takes local passion to bring it to life, too – so that the impact can be felt firsthand.
Equinix recently partnered with Camp Engies, a Canadian not-for-profit created by women in engineering to encourage our future women to get involved in engineering. It operates volunteer-led camps across Canada and gives girls hands-on learning opportunities, at little to no cost to attend. By raising funds and providing sponsorship to help empower future women leaders in STEM fields, our local teams helped the cause of closing the digital divide’s gender disparity with more tangible impact locally.
Having employees play a central role in shaping a company’s ESG strategy, including identifying and supporting community-driven not-for-profits and social causes, can have an immensely positive effect on business outcomes. Fostering an ecosystem of impact helps to improve employee retention and attract new talent with skillsets and passion to further elevate the impact of its programs.
Making a meaningful difference in diversity, equity, inclusion and sustainability efforts is a team sport. Success takes time and commitment from a community of stakeholders – internal and external – working together for the greater good.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.