Going green: All things ESG with Deloitte’s James Oates

ESG has never been so important. But where to start on your green journey? What role can marketing play? Will ESG continue to dominate going forward? Lucy Gillman sat down with Deloitte’s James Oates to investigate the steps that they’ve taken and how you can hit the ground running with your sustainable transformation.

LG: To kick off the interview, could you please introduce yourself and your role at Deloitte

I’m a director in our corporate affairs team, leading on brand, content, corporate marketing and partnerships for our UK firm. It’s a diverse and interesting role – I work with some incredibly talented people and we share a focus on communicating who we are and what we stand for as a business. We work on some fascinating campaign themes. For example, I’m currently working on projects in climate change, using technology for good and inclusion in sport. I’m lucky enough to be able to work on issues that really matter to our clients, our people and to society.

LG: Why is sustainability such an important topic for Deloitte and why should marketers sit up and pay attention now?

Sustainability and climate change are huge challenges for our generation. As the world’s largest professional services brand, we have a responsibility to make positive change and support the transformation to a sustainable economy. Aside from that, it is of course also a key priority for our business, clients and our people. 

From a marketing standpoint, it’s vital we all understand the issue, the importance of driving real tangible change and how it will impact the brands we work with. For instance, our Millennial survey found that people are actively looking for brands that are prioritising sustainability and that people increasingly make choices over the types of work they’d do and organisations they’re willing to work for based on personal beliefs and ethics. So, this is clearly a key issue for marketers and the brands they work for when considering the expectations of existing and future employees.

LG: To start at the beginning, some of our readers may be just starting out on their sustainability transformation journey. Where should we start? And how did Deloitte take their first green steps?

I think it’s key to get inspired, listen to and learn from other businesses and what they have done that is working well. Personally, I also feel it helps as a marketer to understand the science as best I can.We’re not climate scientists or specialists by trade – but the more I understand a project we’re working on or an issue, the better I can advise on how to explain and engage audiences with it externally. 

We launched our WorldClimate strategy, which is comprised of a number of goals, including becoming net zero. WorldClimate ensures we set and meet higher standards for ourselves, as well as supporting those we work with to create solutions that help the transition to a low carbon economy. 

We are also engaging and educating our people on the impacts of climate change to help them make positive choices both at home and at work. For example, last year we developed a climate learning programme in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund for all of our 330,000 people globally. 

LG: At Deloitte you want to reach net-zero. What steps are you taking to get there? What’s marketing’s role in reaching this end goal?

Net zero will require us to almost totally reduce our carbon emissions. We have been tracking and managing our operational emissions for years; our immediate priority is to accelerate these efforts and get our entire footprint on the steep downward trajectory required to limit global warming to 1.5oC. Our WorldClimate strategy sets out our near-term emissions reduction targets. These include:

  • Reducing our business travel emissions by 50% per FTE from 2019 levels. 
  • Sourcing 100% renewable electricity for our buildings. 
  • Converting 100% of our car fleet to electric vehicles.
  • Requiring two-thirds of our global supply chain (by emissions) to set science-based targets by 2025.
  • Investing in meaningful market solutions for emissions we cannot eliminate.

Our role as marketers is to communicate with our people, clients, suppliers and wider society on the actions we are taking so everyone understands there is an urgency and a real business imperative to reduce our emissions, and everyone knows how best they can take action in support of this agenda. Our approach is to inspire action by working together to help tackle the key issues

LG: Where’s marketing’s role in sustainable transformation? Is it their responsibility to push a top-down message both internally and externally?

I see marketing’s role as a catalyst. We have  an opportunity to encourage our audiences – whether that’s our customers, our people or the talent we recruit  - to make more sustainable choices. We’re also acutely aware we don’t have all the answers, and learning continues to be a key part of our firmwide and marketing approach. 

We have had the privilege of working with climate scientists, business leaders and charity partners, to name a few, and hearing about their experiences, challenges, approach and how they’ve succeeded in creating change. This kind of collaboration is key and learning from others will help us to accelerate the change we need to see.

I hope we can use marketing to inspire others to act and our skills in communication to help our clients to understand how to make change. More than anything, as marketers it’s key we show we can ‘walk the talk’ and that we are taking tangible action. 

LG: At Deloitte you produce a sustainability report and thought leadership around green policies. What role does this type of content-based work play in pushing a green agenda?

Our role is as an advisor to business. So the content we create is designed to keep clients abreast of key sustainability issues, policy change or regulation and helps them to understand how it might impact them and what changes they might need to make. 

Again, no individual or organisation has all the answers and learning from each other is key to the success of our shared goals in climate and sustainability. The content we produce has a big part to play in sharing ideas, opinions and solutions with others and thus reinforcing the importance of the green agenda. 

As well as sharing the views of our own experts, we have also shared those of leading climate experts from organisations we’re connected to like the Earthshot Prize, WWF and the Met Office, and created content for the Times and FT which allowed us to reach a wider audience. We also produce our Deloitte annual report, which included stories on our climate work and information and views from clients. This showcases the kinds of innovation and solutions that can come from collaborative work. 

LG: As a follow on, how does thought leadership and other written material work in relation to more practical business policies? Are the two just as important as one another?

I think there is a place for both. Policies hold us to account and give businesses goals to strive for. Showing tangible action is going to become increasingly important for brands – making sure that we are walking the walk rather than just talking the talk. That said, innovation and change will only come if we have access to a range of learnings and views, and anything that helps inspire people to take action is incredibly important.

For me personally, content was key in inspiring me to change my behaviours.For some people it’s a book, for some it’s a report, for me it was a documentary. We call these “lightbulb moments” and it’s this that we want to create alongside the important strategic and policy-focused action. We even created a lightbulb list of climate book recommendations based on this. The Earthshot Prize, which Deloitte was the implementation for last year, is also a great example of how sharing content on innovative solutions can inspire real change.

LG: To zoom further out, according to the Edelman trust barometer, people want to work for and with organisations that address socio-political issues. There’s not just a moral imperative for green policies, but there are business benefits too. What’s Deloitte’s experience with this?

This is absolutely the case. Any business will know that candidates interview you as much as you interview them. People increasingly want to have a positive impact on the world around them. They are looking for brands that are prioritising sustainability and we are keen to ensure Deloitte is a place they can achieve their goals. That’s why we created a series of stories called “Meet the climate team”, which profiles our experts and gives an insight into the kinds of roles they do and the reasons why. We found this helps to show the huge variety of ways you can contribute through a role at Deloitte. 

LG: To expand more on that, as Gen Z are set to become an employee/customer base, will ESG policies go beyond being a key selling point and turn into a fundamental requirement? Do you see the place of green policies becoming almost a basic requirement for companies?

The last few years have seen a shift in how people and businesses see ESG issues and holding businesses accountable for their impact on climate change is incredibly important. Businesses in every sector are putting policies and measures in place to ensure they are adopting sustainable practices. Pressure from employees and customers will definitely contribute to this shift, but so will regulatory and stakeholder pressure. There are so many compelling reasons for companies to take action, and it’s important for them to understand that implementing an effective ESG strategy and making changes is key to them thriving in the long run.

Want to learn more about incorporating ESG into your marketing?

Why not check out Propolis, our exclusive community for B2B marketers to share insights, learn from industry leading marketers, and access our best content. Propolis includes a Hive (group) specially dedicated to Strategy and Evolution.

Check out Propolis now!

strategy and evolution