The growing significance of sustainability with investors, media and customers is opening up new opportunities for IR professionals to expand their role into this burgeoning field. I’d like to explain why this is such a unique opportunity by sharing my own journey.
Early in 2019 I expanded my role to include being the executive sponsor of the sustainability program, which focuses on the business impacts of ESG initiatives, such as greening our customer supply chains and addressing climate change. The rationale was that with the increasing development of sustainable indices, and IR’s strong ties to communications and high visibility with the executives, this would be a good fit and an opportunity to elevate the program.
After working in IR for 14 years, I was interested in expanding my role with a new, complementary skillset. I have found that creating a career path to avoid being siloed in IR over time can be a challenge. Sustainability looked like an interesting program, and the initial scope was that it would use 5 percent of my time.
I was lucky to be working with our two strong sustainability program and marketing managers, who had been running the program the last few years part-time. I jumped into the new role, starting with reading MIT Technology Review’s climate change issue, books such as The Uninhabitable Earth by New York Times writer David Wallace-Wells, and talking to the various teams and consultants working across the company on ESG. I dove into trying to understand the reports and metrics, which were surprisingly dense and complicated to collect, but critical to tracking and reporting on our strategy.
Three areas we immediately aimed to improve on as a team were the next level of messaging, increasing internal and external visibility, and resourcing – including budget and role clarity. We pulled on threads that uncovered entire areas of opportunity: putting our sustainability messaging in our earnings call resulted in a Wall Street Journal interview with our CEO, which led to development of a messaging playbook for our media. This influenced the marketing team to add sustainability as a KPI and build a larger comprehensive marketing program that included awareness campaigns directed at our customers.
We initiated a consolidated cross-functional budget effort that included all supporting ESG functions and resulted in increased program funding. We pursued every opportunity to increase program visibility within the company, including our global sales kick-off, finance off-site, full company meeting and NIRI events. The sustainability work grew to 40 percent of my job, and we restructured the team to have both the investor relations function and sustainability program as direct IR reports with fulltime leaders to support the rapidly expanding scope of work.
IROs sit in a unique position of power to dramatically amplify sustainability programs, and it was realizing that IR and finance can make a significant global impact that fired me up to work on this. Sustainability blends strategy, messaging and reporting across a broad team, and aligns to the skillsets IROs have developed over time. IROs can provide heightened visibility, drive key partnerships and acquire leadership commitments to cultivate a robust corporate sustainability program.
As the expectations on corporate responsibility increase – and as business transparency becomes more prevalent – companies are recognizing the need to invest in sustainability. The most successful companies will consider sustainability as imperative to business, which will create long-term value and be a key underpinning to their business, moving from simply reporting on the issue to taking leadership roles at the forefront of driving global change.
Sustainability is exposing new opportunities for IROs to have greater influence on the direction, strategy and impact of their companies, as well as enhancing IROs’ career path while potentially having substantial positive impact on their communities.
Katrina Rymill is vice president of investor relations and sustainability at Equinix
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of IR Magazine