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Marisa Drew: How Do You Implement Sustainability Organisation-Wide?

Marisa Drew: How Do You Implement Sustainability Organisation-Wide?

Marisa Drew is the Chief Sustainability Officer at Standard Chartered Bank, a leading international bank that has been in operation for over 160 years. With her long-held experience leading sustainability initiatives in large corporations, she discusses how sustainability can be embedded organisation-wide in a rapidly changing world.
13th Feb 2023

‘Perspectives’ is a joint project of The Beautiful Truth and Leaders on Purpose. During the 5th annual Leaders on Purpose CEO Summit this year, The Beautiful Truth conducted interviews with influential corporate leaders and thought leaders. The goal was to gain insight into their perspectives on purposeful business and answer the question: what actions should our businesses take in the current historical context?

Marisa Drew is the Chief Sustainability Officer at Standard Chartered Bank. Although UK-listed, it is a leading international bank that has been in operation for over 160 years, serving in 59 markets primarily in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Drew joined Standard Chartered in July 2022 and previously held several sustainability roles at Credit Suisse, including CSO and CEO of their Impact Advisory and Finance Group. With Standard Chartered’s global presence, it is equipped to impact sustainable finance, particularly in the developing world, by facilitating regionally-relevant pathways to a green transition.

“There previously was this idea that climate change is the purview of government.”

This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

What does sustainability mean in your company?

The purpose that ripples through our DNA here is expressed beautifully in our tagline, ‘Here for good’. There’s a double entendre: we’re thinking long-term, backed by a 150+ year history in our markets, and here to positively impact the businesses and lives of our clients and markets. This is completely aligned with the concepts of sustainability. 

The ‘ guiding mission’ as I define it today for my organisation is to foster the mobilisation of capital at scale to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems. But how we go about driving this agenda and fully operationalising it across the organisation in a cohesive way is the challenge in front of me as I  enter my new role.

How are responses to the climate crisis changing? 

Firstly, we fully acknowledge the need to respond to the realities of climate change with a sense of urgency. There’s now a recognition that climate change requires systems-level thinking, and is a bigger challenge than any single private capital system, development bank or government can manage alone. While previously many believed that climate change was largely the purview of  governments to tackle, we are now realising that we need to collaborate across the public and private sectors in order to have a chance of addressing this effectively.

“It will result in us having a fighting chance at keeping ourselves on this planet in a healthy way.”

Secondly, we also see an increasing recognition that emerging markets are disproportionately affected by climate change. They need advice, capital and best practice-sharing as they embrace their journeys toward decarbonised sustainable economic development. They need to be guided in the transition and we are here to help migrate away from dependence on high carbon-emitting activities and invest in greener alternatives. 

And thirdly, while we continue to focus on mitigation –  reducing carbon emissions to stave off climate change – we are actively ensuring that the concept of adaptation is creeping into the dialogue.  This recognises that we need to accept the fact that we will have to live with climate change effects and therefore adapt our systems and ways of operating accordingly. For instance, we have to figure out how we evolve our built infrastructure to something that is more resilient and can withstand climate impacts such as sea level rise and serious storm activity.  We have to evolve historical business models in important industries like agriculture to manage increasing water shortages and extreme heat conditions; this is what we meant by adaptation.

How can you implement sustainability organisation-wide? 

In a large company, this comes down in part to establishing good organisational design principles that revolve around a change or transformation agenda. Sustainability is one of the most important business model risks for us to manage through. At the same time, it represents one of our most important strategic opportunities, yet it is moving so fast that it is unrealistic to expect the whole organisation to keep up.

Therefore, when sitting as a change agent with an urgent agenda in a highly dynamic environment that is evolving rapidly, I have found that if you can establish yourself as the centre of excellence or nucleus of expertise for the rest of the organisation to tap into as a resource, it is the best way for a large company to absorb the agenda.  Attempting to train everyone while the market is maturing at pace, will be challenging to execute and by the time the training has landed, the information imparted may already be obsolete.

Consequently, as the hub, you need to position yourself as the group that everybody should want to engage with. You have to be everybody’s favourite partner within the organisation. As your colleagues experience the benefit of your expertise and you’ve introduced a base level of knowledge and how it can support their clients, those partners typically then want to engage more on the topic and become your ambassadors – then the idea takes hold across the organisation and the embedding happens.

What is the impetus for engaging in sustainability efforts?

At a conceptual level, to paraphrase the words of Al Gore: “This is the greatest investment opportunity of our lifetime.  Sustainability has the breadth and magnitude of the industrial revolution but operating at the speed of the digital revolution.”  As a purely strategic matter, sustainability is a place we should all want to be because this is where future revenues and profits will be. It’s going to ensure our longevity and licence to operate, but it is also a necessity because inaction almost surely results in our own demise. We cannot make a better case than that.

At the level of us operating as a private enterprise, the impetus is borne out of a demand from all of our stakeholders – regulators and policy-makers, clients, civil society, NGOs, shareholders and indeed our own employees.  If we are not able to respond to our stakeholders with a considered strategy and plan for engaging in sustainability, we will lose their support.  

ESG metrics have faced criticism and backlash recently. How can we increase trust and transparency in investments?

In the absence of a regulatory mandate, as a starting point, banks and asset managers need to create transparent frameworks that underpin their sustainable investment offering.  If you are labelling a financial product ‘green’ or ‘impact’, you have to be very clear with the methodology for why you defined it as such and with real substance behind why you are making the green or impact claim, so you don’t run the risk of greenwashing. This is how you avoid mis-selling: if there’s a basis for why someone may be calling something green, as an investor you don’t have to agree with it, but you can make an informed investment decision based on full transparency.

Then for the markets as a whole, it is important for the operators within it to create a set of best-practice operating principles for the market to be guided by. An adopted set of rules of engagement among leaders in any market ecosystem is typically the precursor to a regulatory mandate and allows the market to function efficiently and provide confidence to investors. Together as leaders, we can hold ourselves to a high standard and agree on best practice that will create a level and transparent playing field.  

The field of sustainability is changing so fast, what should we be doing more of?

Radical collaboration is essential. We need to bring historically unnatural partners together; those who used to vigorously compete with each other or operate in defined silos must be brought into the same conversation. It’s difficult because we have all grown up often speaking very different languages but it’s made easier by having a shared purpose or object – a North Star.

I grew up in the very competitive world of investment banking where there’s little partnering or collaboration. We need to resist the urge to consider it a competitive advantage to function independently with a ‘winner takes all’ mentality. That’s an old way of leading, especially in the field of sustainability. Collaboration is key if we want to have a fighting chance of ensuring a sustainable future for all of us because we can only survive if we all win.

Find out more about our series Perspectives here.