Sustainability in Business: Transparency and Keeping Score

by Dan McDonald

Today, companies and industries grapple with the impact of three key types of sustainability in business. These factors are called ESG, another acronym for the clinical trial industry, already loaded with acronyms. This one, though, carries across industries and impacts everyone. ESG stands for environmental, social, and governance and these factors impact commercial success, such as attracting talent, employee retention, customer retention, and more.

In 2022, IBM conducted a sustainability survey and found that 51 percent of respondents said environmental sustainability is more important to them now than it was a year ago, and one in three workers changing jobs showed they accepted an average pay cut of 28 percent to work for sustainable and socially responsible organizations. Global consumers also demonstrated seeking sustainable products. This data provides a glimpse into the importance of sustainability in business and being transparent to demonstrate the efforts.

To evaluate, quantify, and distribute your company’s sustainability efforts, going through an official rating process provides an evidenced-based analysis of performance and an actionable roadmap for continuous improvement.

ESG standards

The ESG standards are often used in evaluating companies to demonstrate their sustainability in business. An overview of some of the elements of ESG are below:

  • Environment – Impact on the world
    • Pollution and greenhouse gases
    • Use of natural resources
    • Waste production
    • Environmental policies
  • Social – Impact on people (within and outside of the company)
    • Diversity, inclusion, and engagement
    • Health and safety
    • Charity
    • Human rights and anti-discrimination
    • Fair wages across employees
  • Governance – How a business operates and makes decisions
    • Ethics
    • Pay ratio of the executives
    • Leadership
    • Accountability
    • Risk mitigation

Imperial Clinical Research Services has long employed policies and procedures in these areas, and in recent years, we have worked hard to crystalize, and when possible, expand them. These policies and procedures align with our company values and serve to meet the growing ESG expectations of the companies we support.

Putting ESG to the test

Imperial has again participated in a robust evaluation of our ESG position with the Paris-based global benchmarking firm EcoVadis. This firm’s assessments are widely recognized and considered one of the finest.

In our latest EcoVadis assessment, we earned a Bronze Medal. We were excited, perhaps even a bit surprised, to learn that our rating places Imperial in the top 35 percent of companies rated. While we take our role as a corporate citizen seriously, we needed to know how our activities, processes, and policies measure up. As it turned out, pretty good. This is welcome news, but we continue to strive to do better. One of the appealing features of an EcoVadis assessment is details on areas for improvement.

The EcoVadis process

If you have ever completed some of the extensive Requests for Information (RFIs) as part of vendor assessments, you know how time-consuming the process can be. The EcoVadis assessment is similar but on steroids. It includes hundreds of questions across four main categories:

  • The Environment
  • Labor and Human Rights
  • Ethics
  • Sustainable Procurement

Our team came together and chipped away at the questions. These assessments have evolved and have grown more specific. For example, gone are the days of open-ended questions that allow for some ambiguity or salesmanship. The questions now call for straight yes or no responses. Do you have a policy for this? YES/NO. If yes, please attach it. Please indicate the page number for reference. It’s that specific. Completing the questions required several weeks of effort.

Facilitating transparency of sustainability in business

Being transparent about our efforts is something we believe in, and the EcoVadis assessment facilitates this transparency. Other firms that are members of EcoVadis can request your assessment ranking information for review. Several of our current and prospective clients already have. This makes EcoVadis a quasi-clearing house. Complete one assessment and share it with multiple companies looking to understand your efforts and qualify you.

ESG is not to be ignored

ESG efforts and ratings are something no company can ignore. In the life sciences, how your company performs in ESG matters more and more to the large pharmaceutical companies and CROs that subcontract work in the clinical trials industry. We have seen capabilities assessments, which on the surface seem unrelated to sustainability, feature sustainability questions. ESG weaves into everything these companies do, and they expect ESG commitments from their partners. We are now doing the same.

ESG in action at Imperial

Our EcoVadis Bronze status is gratifying for many reasons, particularly when considering our resources, which are not as extensive as many of the larger companies we work with. Our efforts include sustainable materials sourcing, recycling, energy efficiency, and product refinement.

Dedicated efforts can be large and small. Last year, we evaluated the giveaways we hand out at industry conferences and decided to curtail the usual cool plastic tchotchkes or gadgets. Instead, we handed out “second life” pencils that contained plantable seed pods. When the pencil is used up, the recipient simply plants the pod and cares for it as any plant seed, sprouting a few weeks later as basil, a sunflower, or other fun plants. Spruce trees were also an option for a truly long-term result. This giveaway was a huge hit with conference attendees, and they helped us avoid filling landfills with promotional one-time-use plastic junk.

Imperial has extensive plans for continuing our efforts to give back to the communities we work in. We will continue to report our activities to our clients and turn to EcoVadis and other benchmarking firms to review our efforts. We do this with transparency and humility, as the task is big. Working together, we can make a truly lasting impact. Visit us at ImperialCRS.com.

 

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