ESG IS HERE TO STAY
David Whitely from FTI Consulting explains why environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues should be a top priority for the region’s airports and aviation leaders.
As we see a greater focus on the role of business in confronting broader societal issues, there is now a stronger imperative for airports to develop and adopt a more comprehensive approach to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.
I provided insights from FTI Consulting’s latest White Paper, which explores the drivers of the widespread adoption of ESG priorities worldwide for the December 2022 meeting of the ACI Asia-Pacific Regional Economics Committee in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
These drivers include significant social pressure and growing recognition amongst investment and business professionals that these issues can have a material impact on company value.
For airports, the potential risks associated with failing to act on these trends are acute and wide-ranging. From losing a social license to operate and grow, experiencing employee retention problems in a constrained job market, to losing access to capital and non-compliance with incoming regulation – ESG should be front of mind for airport leaders.
AIRPORT BUSINESS TRANSFORMATION
Airports in Asia-Pacific are sophisticated businesses and important economic engines imbued with a more assertive pursuit of growth and improvement. Changes in ownership and management models have resulted in a greater focus on corporate social responsibility, environment, and sustainability issues.
As airports seek to attract greater levels of investment, there is a natural pathway to a more mature approach to addressing ESG risk ‘in the round’. We have found that a good ESG programme includes a purpose-driven strategy that focuses on company-specific material issues and is fully integrated with the business objectives of the airport:
– Every ESG programme should be rooted in materiality: Airports should regularly conduct an ESG materiality assessment which helps organise and prioritise relevant ESG factors based on their level of impact on the business and key stakeholders.
– Targets and reporting on progress are key: Once an airport identifies and prioritises material issues, it should set clear objectives and strategies for each key issue.
– Good governance drives performance: The involvement of the board in driving oversight of the ESG strategy, supported by a cross-segment management team with clear ESG responsibilities, is crucial to demonstrate the seriousness of an ESG programme.
– Ongoing evaluation secures long-term success: Airports must regularly assess their key material priorities and adjust their strategies accordingly.
In the end, airports should focus on addressing ESG risks unique to their business, going beyond compliance and being proactive. No other business risk is addressed reactively, so neither should ESG risk.
LAYING THE RUNWAY TOWARDS ESG MATURITY
Some airports are well-advanced on their ESG journey while others are only at the beginning.
As airports develop an integrated ESG programme across all operations, they need to draw together the various relevant business strands.
Airports already gather data on environmental impact, community and stakeholder engagement, and their approach to workforce and governance, but transforming this into an integrated ESG approach is challenging.
Quantifying environmental action, creating integrated ways of benchmarking and reporting, and helping management teams make sense of the various reporting platforms and measures, can be daunting for companies starting their ESG journey, encompassing:
– ESG assessments & due diligence: Taking a thorough approach from policy gap analysis to on-the-ground investigations will build a clear ESG profile.
– Materiality assessments: Quantitative and qualitative analysis will identify factors that may have a material impact on the organisation.
– ESG programme development: From strategy development to project implementation, we help clients evolve their ESG program from strategy development to project implementation.
– Sustainability reporting: Developing ESG narratives and disclosures that resonate with key stakeholders and align with prevalent ESG – related reporting frameworks.
– Supply chain audits: Globally, we employ blockchain technology to deliver solutions that provide secure, efficient, cost-effective and transparent programmes for businesses committed to ethical supply chain practices.
The final point reflects the reality that aviation is an interconnected and interdependent ecosystem.
Considering an airport’s supply chain in its entirety when planning an ESG programme ensures they can give a robust indication to all stakeholders about actions taking place across the ecosystem.
Airlines and other parts of the supply chain can be part of this conversation as more airports in the Asia-Pacific region take a whole-of-airport approach to sustainability.
ESG HAS ARRIVED AND IT’S HERE TO STAY
We have passed the point of no return in terms of ESG adoption. Indeed, as the world continues to plot a long-term and sustained recovery from the impact and effects of the pandemic, airports that are slow in evolving their ESG programmes should expect tougher conversations in the future with their shareholders and other key stakeholders.
This is particularly important for airports in the Asia-Pacific region as they fight to get back on the path to long-term growth and meet returning passenger demand.
The latest Airports Council International data predicts that traffic in the region will steadily rebuild to 2019 levels by late 2024 before returning to the long-term growth projections expected to result in global traffic doubling within the coming 20 years.
That means the time is now for a more proactive approach to monitoring and managing ESG risks as airports plan the investment in people and infrastructure that meeting this demand will require.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Whitely is a senior director at global consulting firm FTI Consulting. www.fticonsulting.com