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Reconciliation and sustainability, Part 2: Who is ESG for?

When we released our last article, “Reconciliation and sustainability, Part 1: Why we must challenge our current approach to corporate sustainability,” we asked ourselves who is driving current approaches to corporate sustainability, and who is it intended to benefit. We wanted to explore what kinds of worldviews and interests are informing corporate sustainability strategy and reporting, and how they shape the outcomes. It was around that time that we attended the FNMPC Towards Net Zero by 2050 Conference to further our understanding of this topic. We came away with many insights, lessons and observations, which we’d like to share in this, our second part of the series. We think it’s especially important, as non-Indigenous peoples, to share our learnings broadly, especially with other allies who are also reconsidering how they approach sustainability.

Vanessa Roanhorse, co-founder of Native Women Lead, which focuses on investing in female Indigenous business leaders, directly challenged the idea of who is driving current corporate sustainability approaches by asking FNMPC conference attendees to reflect on how ESG affects the Earth, not just the company. We know ESG action generates returns, with revenues increasing up to 20% for companies with responsibility practices; but to Vanessa Roanhorse’s point, we must ensure it results in the kind of meaningful, long-term change we need amidst social justice movements and a climate emergency. After all, there’s no business on a dead planet.

We believe integrating Reconciliation into ESG work is required so corporate sustainability benefits both the bottom line and our continued existence on Earth, not one or the other. Incorporating Indigenous traditional Knowledge and worldviews do this by promoting long-term, multi-generational thinking. Alicia Dubois, Co-Chair of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, supported this idea, noting that companies must move beyond three or five-year plans for both ESG and core business strategies, as well as quarterly reporting cycles. These timelines are fundamentally misaligned with meaningful sustainability action, since it takes time to foster a company culture rooted in strong values, trusting relationships and effective processes.

Indigenous businesses will continue to grow in size and influence and will play an increasingly larger role in the Canadian economy. At the same time, leadership teams and employee bases in non-Indigenous companies are evolving to incorporate increasingly diverse perspectives. As a result, the drivers of current approaches to corporate sustainability are changing. While corporations have a fiduciary duty to generate financial value for shareholders, Indigenous Peoples have a fiduciary duty to advocate for their Lands and Waters, according to Mark Sevestre, Senior Advisor and founding member of the National Aboriginal Trust Officers Association, another speaker at FNMPC. This concept of a duty to advocate for and protect the Earth is a one all organizations (and the planet) would greatly benefit from adopting.

ESG outcomes are inevitably shaped by decisions on how to measure them, so Alicia Dubois urged sustainability professionals to challenge the motivations behind their ESG metrics. For example, is it beneficial to report on the number of jobs created for Indigenous Peoples, or number of contracts signed with Indigenous businesses, if the industry partner hasn’t engaged the community to understand what its unique goals and needs are? Potentially not.

At Creative Fire, we believe approaching ESG strategy development with a thoughtful Reconciliation lens can help ensure these important strategies, including their timelines, priorities, and metrics, will be the most impactful for the Earth and for communities, as well as for the company. Our team was grateful to attend the FNMPC Towards Net Zero by 2050 Conference to hear from Indigenous leaders on the topics of Reconciliation and corporate climate action and look forward to continuing our learning in this area.

Learn. Commit. Act.

Reconciliation Action Plans