At the end of February, I travelled to Hong Kong for my first trip with Hermes EOS. It was great to be back in the city I had called home between 2014 and 2016, which played an influential role in my career. When living there, I led the sustainability work for a British retailer with stores and factories around the world, liaising with my teams in India, China and Bangladesh and commuting to Li Chi Kok, where ex-factory buildings were being transformed into themed restaurants and trendy warehouse co-working spaces.
On my trip for Hermes EOS, I spent my time on Hong Kong island, meeting company executives in the world-famous skyscrapers. Although the meetings had shifted from factories and supplier showrooms to boardrooms, the conversations were not so different. How could businesses become more strategic in their sustainability thinking, what is the ‘tone from the top’, what are the stakeholder priorities and the business benefits? How could I help to join up these dots and encourage businesses to act upon the strategic opportunities of investing in sustainability?
The trip started with a visit to one of the oldest companies in Hong Kong with strong roots in Britain, moved on to a young technology company and a state-owned utility firm, and ended in Beijing with one of China’s biggest dairy companies.
Despite their differences, each of these companies had made good progress in grasping the significance of environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks and opportunities, both in terms of the materiality of the issues and some actions to take. Each company was also prepared to accept that progress was needed, for example by setting meaningful, stretching targets, as well as having more impactful governance of ESG matters. Having spent many years on the opposite side of the table, I could sometimes sense when greater alignment was needed internally, and where I could support sustainability teams in driving progress.
An area of particular interest for me as I engage with companies in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and India is the development of Asia’s expertise in technology and how companies continue to invest in employees’ skills for digital transformation, as well as advancing gender equality in the workforce.
The next step for me is to continue to build trust and help companies understand the benefit of engagement. As leadership in stewardship and responsible investment grows in Asia, I am excited to see how businesses will embrace this opportunity.