Advancing ESG at IE (part 2): How our journey began

IE is on a journey to create a formal program to assess and improve the ESG impacts we make as a company. In a series of blog posts, we aim to share more about our journey, the challenges faced and lessons learned along the way so that we can inspire others. 

In Part 1, our MD, David Hay, talked about our commitment to ESG and the ambitious journey we’re taking to create a more sustainable, resilient future.

In this blog post, we share how and why the journey began, some of the challenges we’ve faced, and how we’re tackling them by talking to Alan Fawzy, IE's Chief Operating Officer.

Why ESG and why now?

The pandemic has accelerated the global conversation around ESG, but it has been building momentum since The Paris Agreement in 2015. The COP26 summit in November 2021 also helped push ESG to the forefront. With businesses aiming to ‘build back better’ post-Covid, sustainability and ESG initiatives are now top priorities.

The global conversation around ESG is driving companies worldwide to embed more sustainable practices in their business. Society is asking companies to change how they operate. Our customers are responding by asking us about our ESG credentials and what we are doing to play our part. And they are asking how we can help them meet their ESG goals. 

Our people are also pushing for us to be better and more sustainable in our approach to business. They recognise the intrinsic waste they see in unused assets being replaced with new ones and see an opportunity to help our customers lessen their environmental impact. 

We can learn from the ESG practices of our parent company, Steelcase, a leading global furniture manufacturer with an award-winning approach to ESG. But as their core operations have a different set of impacts to ours, we wanted to launch ‘Advancing ESG@IE’ to identify and improve our individual impacts on the planet.


Putting ESG at the forefront of our strategy

Discussions about embarking on this journey started in the summer of 2021. In February this year, we relaunched the strategy for the business with an intrinsic focus on ESG and sustainability. 

Integrating our ESG program into our business strategy enables us to bring the same focus and discipline to it as we do to other strategic initiatives aimed at creating long-term value. We aim to embed ESG and sustainability into everything we do so that it becomes business as usual. 

When deciding on initiatives to prioritise, we identified those that are core to the business strategy and key to the long-term health and viability of the business.

As one of the countries leading furniture distributors, most of our responsibility lies within what we purchase and how we operate as a business. We were already trying to make the right decisions as a business around things like waste, carbon, and supporting local communities. But we wanted to look at how we could do more and do it better.

This meant asking questions like:

  • What more can we do to reduce the amount of office furniture going to waste?
  • As we are principally a distributor, how can we move the dial significantly enough to reduce our carbon emissions to make real change?
  • What more can we do to support local communities?
  • How can we measure and improve on our existing goals and embed them within the business?

Implementing our ESG program

One of the biggest challenges we faced early on was management teams not having the time they needed to focus on ESG and move things forward. Alan Fawzy, Chief Operating Officer at IE, was brought in to lead and accelerate progress on company-wide initiatives, including our ESG program.

“I met with David Hay and was really impressed with the ambition and aspiration that IE had as a business for ESG. It was clear to me when I started that it was a key pillar of the strategy, and that was really exciting.” 

Alan Fawzy, Chief Operating Officer

More recently, we have also brought on board a Sustainability and Compliance Manager, whose role is predominately to move us forward on our ESG objectives. 

Making ESG and sustainability a thread that runs through our business also meant getting the whole team on board.  We first talked to our teams about the Advancing ESG@IE initiative at a company-wide event back in November 2021. In the months that followed we rolled out an ESG training course to everyone in the company to educate and inform why we were launching the ESG program,  how they could help and what was expected of them.

But we also sought the support of leading sustainability advisors to help. They have aided us in reviewing what we’re currently doing in terms of ESG and what we could do, and also by supporting the management team in developing and implementing the ESG program. We didn’t just want to pay lip service to our goals of becoming more sustainable. We wanted to make sure we went about it in a methodical way.

Managing our carbon emissions

One big area of focus is how we become more carbon and energy efficient as a company. We have undertaken a baseline carbon and energy audit to understand scope 1 and 2 emissions and to provide an estimated scope 3, where most opportunities for carbon reduction lie.

Scope 1 covers greenhouse gas emissions that a company makes directly, for example, while running its boilers and vehicles. Amongst our initiatives we have started a move to electric vehicles with our first electric van arriving in July 2022 and we've also recently installed low carbon led lighting throughout our office and operations hub in Rainham, Essex.

Scope 2 covers the emissions a company makes indirectly, like the electricity or energy it buys for heating and cooling buildings, producing emissions on its behalf. An example of what we’ve been doing to tackle this includes working with our landlords to reduce our energy usage.

Scope 3 is where things become more challenging. It refers to the emissions a company is indirectly responsible for up and down the supply chain. Developing a supplier sustainability programme is a key objective for 2022 and will also be one of the biggest challenges. We’ll be exploring this in more depth in a later blog post.

Our ESG roadmap

We’ve created an ESG roadmap to deliver a series of practical actions across ESG that will help benefit our customers and allow us to meet our goals. 

  • Purpose and strategy - Embedding ESG and sustainability in our strategy and everything we do at IE.
  • Internal organisation and integration - Bringing in people to lead the ESG journey and making it a focus at a leadership level. We’re already seeing this happening with two biweekly progress meetings attended by the entire management team. ESG is also a central topic at board meetings.
  • Data measurement - Identifying how to capture and measure data so we can inform and track our goals.
  • External engagement - Determining how we communicate our sustainability credentials externally.

But change won’t happen overnight. 

“This is an iterative program supported by action and data. We want to measure and keep track of year-on-year improvements. Measuring and understanding data will be crucial for assessing how we’re progressing.” 

Alan Fawzy, Chief Operating Officer

Embedding ESG as a key thread that runs through our business is an involved and complex process. By weaving it into our strategy, making it a focus at a leadership level, bringing in external consultants to support us, and having a clear roadmap, we are confident that we can make a real impact.

In our next blog post, we’ll share how we decided on both long-term and short-term objectives in four key areas: environment, social, governance & policies, and sustainable business.

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