Ep 7 – Conversation with Andy Wales (Managing Director, Accenture. Previously CSO, British Telecom)
In this episode, we talk to Andy Wales who was Chief Digital Impact and Sustainable Officer at British Telecom when we did this interview. Andy has had a long career in sustainability, having worked in this space in manufacturing (Interface Inc.), utilities (Severn Trent), FMCG (ABInBev and SABMiller), and telecoms and tech (BT). He begins by telling us what sustainability means to him and what his role at BT involves. He goes on to tell us what sustainability has involved in the different sectors he has worked in. Andy then discusses the drivers of and impediments to businesses becoming more sustainable in what they do, both operationally and strategically. He ends with his thoughts on the pros and cons of technology and what the future of sustainability looks like.
Andy Wales is currently Managing Director at Accenture, leading their new global sustainability assets and offerings. Previously Andy was Chief Digital Impact and Sustainable Officer at British Telecom. He is Non Exec Director at Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor, which has helped 25m+ people get access to clean water and sanitation across 12 emerging market cities. He is also a former board committee member/senior advisor to WWF UK, Sainsbury’s, Global Innovation Fund, and Mayor of London.
Andy believes in driving growth through (genuinely) purpose led business strategy and has done so across telecoms and tech (BT), FMCG (ABInBev and SABMiller), utilities (Severn Trent) and manufacturing (Interface Inc).
He is a tech for good angel investor and investment fund advisor and is convinced of the power of big business and start ups/scale ups working together to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Key moments timestamps
[00:25]- Andy’s current role, personal and professional journey
[01:36]- What sustainability means to Andy
[02:08]- About the role of the Chief digital impact and sustainability officer at British Telecom
[04:49]- On whether the CSO role is more strategic or operational
[05:24]- If the sustainability roles at various career points in Andy’s professional life are similar or not
[07:36]- The drivers of sustainability and potential link to strategy and branding
[10:40]- Building business consortiums and coalitions to tackle climate issues
[13:47]- On dealing with shareholders and other short-term financial pressures
[15:51]- Examples of programs that have components of environmental and social impact
[18:11]- Awareness campaigns for digital skilling
[19:23]- Andy’s journey and evolution in sustainability
[21:18]- The links between inequality, environment, and technology
[24:37]- On any particular sectors taking the lead on sustainability
[26:45]- On any particular businesses taking the lead on sustainability
[28:53]- Andy’s thoughts on the future and the ability of businesses to rise to the occasion
“I think there’s a strong link between digital and sustainability because the sector will enable a better quality of life, better economic productivity, better business models at dramatically lower emissions.” – Andy Wales
[00:00:00] Intro: Welcome to more with less the podcast that looks at how businesses balance financial growth with sustainability. I am Venkata Gandikota and I’m Jaideep Prabhu.
[00:00:25] Venkata Gandikota: In this episode we speak with Andy Wales, who is currently Managing director at Accenture and leading their global new sustainable services and integration. Previously Andy was working as Chief Digital Impact and Sustainable Officer at British Telecom. In his new role at Accenture, Andy is putting into practice what he has learned across four sectors to help scale and accelerate the transition to sustainability across many more companies and sectors. We recorded this episode back when Andy was still with British Telecom.
[00:00:56] Jaideep Prabhu: Andy, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. You’ve been working at the heart of sustainable business for a while now. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your personal journey?
[00:01:06] Andy Wales: So I guess I’ve worked in four sectors across textiles with Interface originally at the start of my career, in multi utilities with Seven Trent for four years when they owned Biffa waste and a range of other utility businesses, then 10 years in FMCG with SAB Miller and then AB InBev. And then most recently last three years in telco and tech with BT.
So through all of those four companies. The role has really been to put sustainability at the heart of strategy at the heart of brand. And increasingly importantly, the growth plan.
[00:01:36] Venkata Gandikota: People talk about sustainability and there are like articles written about sustainability and sustainability as a strategy is written into the company’s strategic goals and so on. Can you describe what does sustainability mean to you?
[00:01:49] Andy Wales: So for me it means a business understanding the material, social, environmental, and broader economic challenges that it faces, that will shape its operating environment now and in the long term, and then responding to those in an appropriate way to help solve and sometimes lead the solving of those challenges.
[00:02:08] Jaideep Prabhu: And your current role at BT is chief digital impact and sustainability officer. What is the link between technology and digital and sustainability and what does your role at BT actually involve?
[00:02:23] Andy Wales: So we have quite a focused strategy in digital impact and sustainability as part of BTs wider purpose to connect for good and our business ambition to be the world’s most trusted connector of people, devices, and machines. And within that, we have a strategic priority, which is lead the way to a bright, sustainable future. And that has three pieces in it.
Our work on digital skills to help our customers, particularly domestic consumers and smaller, medium size enterprises.
We have a million SMEs we supply to help build the digital skills they need to get the most out of their world. And obviously there’s a benefit for BT in people potentially using more of our products and services there. The second is responsible tech and human rights, and that’s actually part of the link between technology and the social sustainability side as it were, because that looks at both what you might expect in the traditional issues that we’d look at in our supply chain and seek to eliminate such as, modern slavery or looking at the criteria we’d put around our use of communications and cyber security products around the world. But it also looks then at the new products and services that we are taking to market around health, around the connected home, around the internet of things and making sure that as we build those products and services and take them to customers, we do that in a responsible way.
And then the final piece is environmental sustainability and with a particular focus on climate, but also circular economy. And there’s a very strong link between technology and climate, because although we have seen in the last decade or so data use increased dramatically six to eight times, actually BTs energy use has actually declined slightly, and our emissions are plummeted as we’ve sourced a hundred percent net renewable electricity as we’re starting our journey towards electric vehicles for our van fleet.
And that’s what we expect if we look forward at the tech and telco sector in the next 10 years is the same thing. But overall data will probably grow another six to eight times as we all live in a much more data rich and data enabled world. Energy use will probably hold flat, maybe declined slightly as the new technologies, despite the massive increase in data, the new technologies, 5g, and fiber, are much more energy efficient, but emissions will continue to plummet because the rest of the sector will also now be meeting its net zero targets.
And that’s why I think there’s a strong link between digital and sustainability because the sector will enable a better quality of life, better economic productivity, better business models at dramatically lower emissions.
[00:04:49] Jaideep Prabhu: So would you say your role is both strategic and operational or is it more one than the other?
[00:04:55] Andy Wales: I think it’s probably slightly more strategic in the sense that I think a good Chief sustainability officer is someone who works with the operational teams across the business and each business unit and each core function to help bring sustainability to life in what they do, whether it’s fleet management for our open reach business, whether it’s the procurement team buying power, whether it’s our marketing team, taking campaigns to consumers, the execution is in those teams.
But the planning is done together. And so that’s I think it probably is slightly more strategic.
[00:05:24] Venkata Gandikota: As I understand from your introduction, this is not your first go at working on sustainability at a company. So you previously had worked with Sainsbury, AB InBev and at interface. What is different in your current role and how is it different compared to what you have done previously at those other companies? How would you compare, these different sectors and businesses in terms of their approach to sustainability?
[00:05:44] Andy Wales: Just for information, the Sainsbury role was more an external advisory role. Seven trent was the other one where I was in the executive role. I think a few things are interesting to reflect on. I was very fortunate to start my career Interface, where Ray Anderson, as a founder CEO had essentially had a quite dramatic conversion to sustainability and essentially was seeking to take a petrochemical based business with a take make waste value chain into a closed loop, zero emissions inspirational restorative business. And I think what’s fascinating is that thinking from about 20 years ago, maybe 25 years ago, is now starting to become mainstream and possible. In major businesses around the world, as we see businesses like BT convert to a hundred percent renewable power go beyond, as we see people like Tesla, radically disrupt markets in very rapid ways, I think back in 1997 or so when Ray set that vision for Interface, he probably didn’t expect it would take 25 years or so for that to really start coming to scale in different sectors. But I think so I guess what I’m saying is I think the right there at the start of my career, I was very lucky and fortunate to see that kind of visioning in place. I think through my career, I’ve seen the business case grow more strongly and more rapidly.
In Seven Trent environmental services was at the heart of the business model. And so doing that in the right way, in a circular way, generating renewable power from organic waste was, important and early on at SAB Miller, where beer is a very local business and beverage is very local business consumed locally produced locally. There were lots of opportunities to improve incomes for different groups through the value chain whilst also tackling the big risks like water scarcity and and the big carbon challenges. So I think through my career, I’ve seen the kind of commitment, the execution commitment, let’s say to that original type of vision that Ray had scale up.
And now we’re seeing, with the net zero commitments across sectors and very big thinking on circular and other themes. We’re seeing businesses in whole sectors now seek to do that at scale.
[00:07:36] Jaideep Prabhu: So that’s really interesting because you alluded to the business case for sustainability.
What would you say are some of the drivers of sustainability in business and perhaps, maybe while discussing that you could make a link with strategy, the strategic function, and maybe even the branding function of the company?
[00:07:54] Andy Wales: Yeah, fundamentally the business case is about the changing external environment, the reality of it, and also the expectations or perception of the changing external environment as in the expectations or perceptions of the company in that environment. And I think a lot of what Chief sustainability officers do is essentially look out 10 years plus, and think what are gonna be the very big changes in society that we will see, dramatic mitigation on climate, potentially we might see in 10 years or so, depending on how the scenarios play out and seek to help the business understand what that would mean for its own operating model for its operating environment, for its customers, for its suppliers, and then adapt.
And so I think there is a sense that sustainability teams play an important long term strategy role, obviously in support of strategy teams. I think the business case. So the business case is a long term. One of course the question is then within the timeframe out from the short to the long, when do you invest to make the decisions? How bold are you, how quickly do you expect to transition to take place?
A good example at BT is the fact that after we’ve done a hundred percent renewable power. We then decided to look very hard at the next big chunk of emissions, which was our vehicle fleet. Second largest corporate vehicle fleet in the UK, 33000 and three and a half ton vans, essentially driving around cities and towns sorting out the network, which are deep, primarily diesel, and decided that we, we ran a feasible pathway in terms of the supply of electric vehicles, the potential cost compared to diesel and others, and then decided that we wanted to try and lead that charge. We wanted to try and get as many of those, the vast majority EVs by 2030. And so then sought to build a critical mass of other companies who also buy that kind of vehicle to demonstrate to government, to demonstrate to the suppliers of the vehicles, to demonstrate to the infrastructure power companies that the demand was there and we were serious. And so we did that first of all with the climate group where we built something called the UK electric fleet Alliance about 18 months ago.
And within six months, 30 big UK companies were signed up, Tesco, Unilever, the Royal mail also joined after. 750,000 to a million vehicles between us and together with Greenpeace, we then called the UK government to bring the petrol and diesel vehicle ban for new vehicles forward from 2035 to 2030.
And so I think that’s a good example of a strategic challenge, which is we need to reduce the emissions of our vehicles. We know that electrification of transport is coming and then being able to put the UK ahead of that and then build the coalition to help it happen. And then more recently, we’ve also developed them working with the UK government, with the Prime minister’s build back better business coalition, the UK electric van accelerator, which has more specific commitments from companies to buy certain numbers of vehicles and is therefore seeking to give suppliers the confidence to make sure they’re investing giga factories in the UK with government support, that we look at things like interoperability of the payment systems that we look at the grid resilience the things we really need to tackle to actually make it happen.
[00:10:40] Jaideep Prabhu: So that’s really interesting. If you mentioned this climate group, it sounds like a consortium of companies. How do you create that kind of consortium? And how do you get companies that are otherwise potentially going at each other, hammer and tongs competitively to align their strategic visions in this way? I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that?
[00:10:59] Andy Wales: Sure. So the climate group actually is an NGO that was formed out of a number of people in the corporate sector and around wanting to drive corporate progress together. So in a sense it is a group that’s about corporates, but it’s broad in that it’s an NGO. Over the years, they’ve begun to host quite an important number of conversations, research, and coalitions to drive change.
So the first one that BT was a co-founder of as well was called Re 100, Renewable energy 100, which is all about going a hundred percent renewable power and getting companies to commit to that. Then they did EV 100, which was getting companies to commit to electric vehicles again by 2030, and then the thing we formed with them, which was the UK electric fleet Alliance was a UK specific activation and policy engagement really to take that commitment, but start to activate it.
I think there is now a really good track record of companies working together to deliver, to scope what the scale of the challenge is to have the research and insight, to understand how to chunk up the problem, and then to invest together in the solutions. And another good example is when I was with SAB Miller ,with the world economic forum, with Coca-Cola, with Standard chartered, in McKinsey, Unilever, we invested in something called the 2030 Water Resources Group, which is now part of the World Bank Group, which was essentially looking at the water risk to economic growth at the country level for South Africa, for Jordan, for Brazil, for one of the provinces of China, for part of India which we shared at Davos over a series of years, the insights and what that could mean in terms of different policy decisions for governments and how businesses could invest to tackle the water scarcity crisis.
So I think there’s lots, there’s a really good track record now of those kind of partnerships. And I think you equally see it with competitors. Actually back in that original group, you had both Coke and Pepsi was there too. Now you’ve got things like the climate pledge, which has a whole range of players in the tech and telco sector who are making a pledge together.
And of course, we need in the right way, we need to work together to deliver it because many of us use the same supply or similar suppliers or suppliers in the same part of the world to get the components we need for our value chains. And so together, we’re making a very similar ask of our suppliers, to step up and set their own net zero targets.
And the one bit that is a bit more difficult in the cooperation piece is when you involve your brands. But you need to use your brands, right? Because brands are the ways that you communicate and engage with consumers. They’re the ways that you build trust. They’re the ways that you enable change.
They’re the ways that, Unilever gets Ariel customers to turn their washing machine down 10 degrees. They’re the ways that, BT hopefully gets people to think about buying renewable electricity for charging all their devices at home, including their phones. So we need brands to be able to speak to people at scale and enable change.
But at the same time, it’s hard to do big coalition things in a branded way. And in fact, you, of course, you have to be careful about how you do it. So I think that is where there is some, not tension, but just there’s always a question as to how, to what extent it’s a brand thing versus to what extent it’s a coalition.
[00:13:47] Venkata Gandikota: The question prior to that was, you’re talking about the major drivers, but this what I see is this type of coalition under the NGO umbrella, these would also be, like a major driver, because wanting to be part of it, being part of it and, committing yourself together. But having said that, what do you think would be the major impediments?
To businesses being more sustainable, you have all these supporting you to be more sustainable, but what would you say would be the major impediments and a follow up to that would be, how do you deal with shareholder and other short term financial pressures?
[00:14:22] Andy Wales: So I think that’s it comes back to my earlier point around.
I think the strategy is often relatively clear. The question is always timing. And so I think the question is on impediments is often is less often about actual cash or immediate financial pressures. And it’s more frequently about management time and focus. Classically businesses who are in a challenging space or in a very fast moving market where they need to keep up and innovate, have a challenge with.
Strategic focus, being, having a sharp enough focus, having a clear enough focus, trying to do few enough things extremely well. And so I think that’s the challenge and the answer is typically to pick where you can to pick off your sustainability challenges in sequence, as we have done, for example, BT in climate change, work first on renewable power.
We have the advantage. We started early, more than 10 years ago. Now focus on electric vans and essentially seek to move the market on that bit. And then look at what we will do in terms of enabling our customers to dramatically reduce their emissions, including communicating with consumers. So sometimes it’s a question of prioritization phasing, and sometimes it’s just a question of this becoming being elevated up the corporate strategy and plan for a period of time. So for example, right now in the last two years, BT’s added both digital skills and our carbon emissions to our group scorecard, the eight metrics on which everyone in the business who receives a bonus, gets their annual bonus. It’s in total it’s 5% for each of them, which is at the same level as our fiber build target or our customer MPS targets.
So it’s the same level. So it’s about picking the things they’re gonna make the most difference for that period of time.
[00:15:51] Jaideep Prabhu: So you mentioned the electric vehicles program. I was wondering whether you had any other examples from BT where you know, took both environmental sustainability and social impact into account.
So either from BT or from any one of your previous roles, if you could give us a couple of examples, that would be great.
[00:16:10] Andy Wales: Yes. There is an interaction. So we do a lot with the BT brands, particularly BT EE into lesser extent, Plus Net and using those brand and our brand campaigns to improve our customers and communities digital skills.
So we had a goal we set three or four years ago to reach 10 million people in the UK and help them improve their digital skills. We reached that last year four years ahead of schedule. We’ve now improved it to a 25 million goal of the same period by 2025. And that’s based on the scale of the change the UK needs to see in terms of the productivity impact of better digital skills for customers, domestic customers, and for SMEs. It’s based on an acceleration of our commitment in the context of COVID and lockdown on people having to work from home, use healthcare services online, live their lives online, communicate and live online in a very different way. And so we’ve very dramatically scaled up our work, even running Abbots for a few weeks, for three minutes at a time through ITV, the main commercial station in the UK to get celebrities, to teach people how to use WhatsApp, to talk to their older and vulnerable people to talk to their families, how to d o a GP appointment online, how to do other fill in your request for benefits online, a whole range of things in terms of online need. And we’ve now started to look at how we can use other types of campaigns. They’re not explicitly about digital skills, but to improve people’s digital skills.
So just recently in the context of the European football tournament, we ran a campaign called Hope United, which is about a team, a very diverse team of players from the Englands women’s and men’s and from the disability football team to actually talk about the hate they were facing online and getting people to respond and engage in online discourse in a different way.
And part of that was about a kind of this digital skillset of how you engage in the smart way. And we’ve done further campaigns on climate change and how consumers can engage on climate. But even within that, we’ve then built in a digital skills element in terms of how people can learn to use tech in the home, better to reduce emissions, how they can use, a smart meter, how they can use temperature control, how they can use device control in their home.
So I think that increasingly we are beginning to see the interconnection there.
[00:18:11] Jaideep Prabhu: When you say you have these, is it mainly through campaigns that you run that’s ad campaigns? Or do you have other ways of improving people’s digital skills? Because I would imagine that then that’s not really your core expertise.
So how far do you go from your core in trying to do something like that?
[00:18:31] Andy Wales: Yeah, that’s a good question. So we have hired a number of people who are experts in this, to help us build these propositions. The ad campaigns are important because, and they’re obviously not just TV, they’re social, the range of others because they open the gateway to scale.
But at the same time, they obviously seek to pull people into deeper and more advanced content through our websites and. Also the partners of our port, the portals of our partners. So we work with a range of other partners. So with on smaller and medium size business, we partner with Google. To offer combined training and products and services to small businesses.
We’ve worked with parents, with young children who are about to get their first smartphone at age, roughly 10 and a half. We work with a group called internet matters, which is a industry wide group, which is about online safety and training. We’ve worked with a range of other partners over the years to deliver different levels of content.
So yes, you’re right. It’s important to have some skill, but also to work with the right partners to execute.
[00:19:23] Venkata Gandikota: What is your personal angle to sustainability? Has it come because of working at Interface or it’s just evolved? You were at interface, but you were also evolving. How was this personal journey for you and what links do you see for example, between inequality, environment and technology?
[00:19:40] Andy Wales: Yeah. Good challenge. I didn’t fully answer the first question. That’s a good catch. So I grew up in a city Birmingham in an area called Balsall Heath, an area that was quite heavily full of different immigrant communities that had quite a big problem, both with drugs and being a red light district. My parents were both primary school teachers who had deliberately chosen to move into that area to try and, help in a humble way or make things better a little bit.
They were part of a Baptist church in that area who did quite interesting work. For example, seeking to help women who were prostitutes, get off the street and hide in various rural hideaways from their pimps and things. They also had people who went out overseas to do things like nursing or agricultural development.
So living in a fairly challenging gritty environment, knowing many people who had quite challenging lives and also then seeing people going overseas and doing interesting development work was quite shaping for me. So I studied international development with English at Sussex and did a master’s afterwards with a group called forum for the future.
And they sadly, they don’t do this course anymore, but they they took 12 people a year and they put you on different one month placements in different sectors, business, government, the media, NGOs and others. So I did a month at the economist magazine, looking at sustainability a month at the WTO looking at access to justice, a month in parliament, we won the political parties on the environment side, a month at interface, which is how I got the corporate job.
And that’s why I decided to go into the corporate world actually, because I felt the culture and the commitment Interface was actually the most dynamic and results oriented from a sustainability perspective out of all those that I’d experienced. I also worked in a couple of local charities in Easter house in Glasgow and in Hackney in London.
[00:21:18] Venkata Gandikota: Can you talk about the links between inequality, environment and technology. So you have been working at all these places and you were it interface, and then that led you to interface. But can you also briefly describe a bit more like how you see the links between inequality, environment related issues and technology?
[00:21:35] Andy Wales: Have you got a particular thing in mind? Are you thinking about a particular set of geographies or set of challenges, cuz they’re very different in different parts of the world, those interactions
[00:21:43] Jaideep Prabhu: and often, technology, the same people might see technology as being both the cause and the solution, the cause of the problem and potentially the solution.
So I wonder what thoughts you may have about the role that technology plays because some people might argue that technology has caused inequality. Especially when linked to globalization. Others may say, no technology has actually democratized the means to set up a business and scale your business.
So I’m just wondering what, I guess that’s what we were asking.
[00:22:11] Andy Wales: At that level, I see technology as an enabler of good in society, whether that was, the mobility of the car back in the forties and fifties and sixties, aircraft and other things since then, or whether it’s the the ways that more cutting edge technologies, mobile payments and everything else are transforming parts of Africa and parts of India.
So I generally see technology as a positive enabler. Of course there are then sometimes significant externalities like carbon emissions as we’ve understood, the impact of fossil fuel. My time at SAB Miller taught me that, the incredible benefits of designing a value chain to empower and enable people who were previously excluded from the formal economy. Most beer in Africa was lager, has traditionally been made from surprisingly, from imported grain, bought in from the US or Canada or Czech Republic to make a high quality product for niche communities in Africa markets and SAB Miller changed that by making high quality products using local crops like sorghum or cassava to still make high quality lagers that were properly taxed and that people enjoyed and that, had a much bigger local economic multiplier and very successfully took us Market prominence in some of those countries where we were maybe number two, took us number one. So it was very successful from business perspective.
And obviously as you do that, you also need to start to think how do we also equip these small farmers who’ve never had a formal cash income to also think about how to run their small business. They’re now essentially a small business person.
How do they do financial planning? They’re also a farmer who’s scaling a bit and now has more of an environmental impact. So how do they think about efficient water use? How do they think about crop rotation? How do they think about the application of fertilizers and pesticides and things?
And so it’s about helping each actor as they step outta poverty and step up the ladder, do things in the right way that will ensure the community benefits locally, but also their business survives. It’s the same on the retail side, we used a lot of work in Latin America, in central, Eastern Europe and Africa with mom and pop shops, selling beer and soft drinks and other beverages and other food products to help them build their business skills, help them understand how to better budget, how to apply the regulations properly so they weren’t serving people who shouldn’t have served, been served with alcohol, they weren’t serving at the wrong hours, how to be more of a kind of beacon of safety and security in some quite difficult communities.
So I think, I think there’s lots of ways that business can successfully redesign value chains to drive more good from an economic perspective and social perspective whilst also minimizing environmental impact and technology and what it can do for good is written throughout that.
[00:24:37] Jaideep Prabhu: So you’ve talked about a lot of sectors and you’ve, been in quite different sectors as well.
If you step back and look at the global business landscape, are there any particular sectors that you think are in the lead and are there some that are lagging behind.
[00:24:51] Andy Wales: I think FMCG moved quite fast. So in the last 15 years, FMCG delivered a lot. I remember in the nineties when people started to talk about decoupling resource use from growth and there was a lot of frustration in the kind of NGO and campaign community by the mid two thousands that it just hadn’t happened. But by the time you got to kind of 20 10, 20 15, you were seeing dramatic improvements in both energy and water efficiency and very significant reductions in impact in those companies, Unilever, Nestle, SAB Miller, Coke, PepsiCo, and a range of others.
And I think that’s because it takes It takes a period of time to bring an entire cadre of corporate leaders up to speed, to get ’em to understand the implications of what’s happening in the world, to get ’em to understand what it means for their organization and then what they can do differently.
And then it takes a number of years to execute, right? So I think that sector has done that ahead of some others. I think finance you’re now seeing, stepping up very fast in a very similar way and trying to figure out the value chain of finance as it were, their portfolios, of debt and equity and those they advise on for their, those that are asset managers, thinking about how their influence plays through all of those different relationships.
I think the telco sector moved early again, because I think the telco sector understood the energy opportunity and risk long term. And so was a big driver of the change to renewable power. I think auto is fascinating because I think clearly there are some companies that have been hard charging for the last few years like Tesla but I think the pace at which, you know, Jaguar Landrover and VolksWagen and a range of others are now adapting and moving fast is great to see. And then I think obviously there’s some big challenges for the tech platforms in a slight different way, the Facebooks and range of different social media companies where they build some brilliant communities, but equally have challenges in terms of some of the things that happen on their platforms or through their platforms and how they respond. And of course, that’s why in the UK, the government’s been quite progressive, I think, in its social media regulation.
[00:26:45] Venkata Gandikota: So, you talked about the sectors and then you mentioned a bit about Facebook. So can you talk particularly about particular businesses? That are making great progress on this issue? And can you let us know if you like how they’re making that progress?
[00:26:59] Andy Wales: Yeah. I think two things. I think business leadership comes in cycles. We’ve seen a cycle where FMCG companies have been right at the fore, like Unilever and more lately Danone. I think they’ve been fundamental in helping people understand how sustainability can be built into both long term strategy to deal with risks like climate, water, scarcity, and into brands to really start to communicate with consumers. I think what we’re seeing now with banks like HSBC, but also actually people like Credit Suisse who for a long time done some really good work and have a strong team who are leading on new ESG products and services.
I think we’re now beginning to see impact investing in its broadest sense, not just niche, ESG, or exclusion criteria, but serious levels of resources put into strategies, investment strategies that help solve some of the big problems identified in the UN sustainable development goals right at the front of that, of course climate, but also other challenges.
I think that’s really encouraging and really exciting. And then, I also do quite a lot of very small angel seed investing in tech for good companies solving specific social, environmental, economic challenges. And I think some of those companies are disruptive, but also growing fast and incredibly exciting, from Odd Box, which is a UK food delivery box that takes only surplus or waste or wonky food.
Really good value and really good quality and really fun. All the various photos on social media, of the strange looking carrots or what every week through to another one that I’ve invested in love called Apolitical, which is essentially a very new is a new community between public servants around the world. In the civil servants to be able to learn from each other about the challenges they face and step up their capabilities. So I find those kind of companies, very exciting. Obviously you’ve already seen certain big companies, Unilever and many others start to buy some of the disruptive companies in their space.
And I hope that over time, we’ll see more and more of these kind of sustainability disruptors, either scale or bit get bought so they can scale.
[00:28:53] Jaideep Prabhu: It’s interesting you mentioned Apolitical. I am a big fan as well. I think they’re quite remarkable. Andy, when you think to the future, what’s your kind of sense and what’s your instinct here?
Are you optimistic about the ability of business in particular to deal with some of the serious challenges of climate change or do you have some reasons to be pessimistic? What are your sentiments on that front?
[00:29:18] Andy Wales: I’m an optimist, pragmatic optimist. I’m actually more, and I’m even more optimistic now than I was three years ago.
I think COVID has taught us we can do things at scale together fast if we push. I think the scale of the rise of companies like Tesla has shown us that truly, there’s lots of questions about it, but truly incredible things can happen and become very valuable and transform a marketplace potentially, or accelerate transformation.
I think we’ve seen now what the seriousness that investors, major asset managers, financial services companies are taking, ESG. And I think we’re only just beginning to see the impact of that in terms of what it means for corporate strategy, for the transition out of fossil fuels, for the proper rigorous and simple communication of how companies are doing to investors, consumers and others.
So I’m optimistic. I think the pace of change is accelerating fast. I think the ESG and sustainability kind of talent marketplace has taken off dramatically. And that means that, it’s now seen, increasingly seen as a very solid, growing, reputable kind of business discipline. And that’s obviously been a journey that, I’ve been on in the business last different businesses the last 20 years.
And I think people can see how increasingly critical it is to also meeting national and international priorities.
[00:30:31] Jaideep Prabhu: Wonderful. I think that’s a great place to thank you for your insights and your wisdom, and your optimism as well. So thank you so much for doing that with us, Andy.
[00:30:40] Venkata Gandikota: Thanks, Andy.
[00:30:41] Andy Wales: Great. Pleasure. I am glad to hear.
[00:30:42] Outro: thanks for listening to our more, less podcast, you can follow us also on social media, our Twitter handle is more with less pod and our handles on Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube are more with less podcast.
Venkata Gandikota is a frugal innovation and impact investing evangelist and Prof Jaideep Prabhu is a Professor of Marketing at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School and co-author of an award-winning book on frugal innovation.
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