The Future of Business: Sustainability at the Core. Exclusive interview with James McGregor, international sustainability expert



In a world increasingly defined by rapid technological advances, global market pressures, and environmental challenges, companies must integrate sustainability into their core strategies to remain relevant and profitable. James McGregor, a leading expert in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and Sustainable Management Strategies, emphasizes the evolving role of corporate boards in driving these initiatives during a revealing interview. You can meet James McGregor on May 23rd at the Masterclass "Sustainability as Core Value: Implications for Boards and Enterprise Leaders"




Transforming Board Roles for Sustainability
McGregor underscores the changing dynamics within corporate boards due to factors like energy shifts, technology advancements, and geopolitical tensions. He highlights that "the risks over every decision have changed," impacting stakeholders from employees to entire countries. A diverse and inclusive board is crucial, not just for risk mitigation but also for enhancing opportunities and boosting commercial profitability.

As regulatory frameworks around sustainability tighten, boards must navigate these complexities, balancing short-term pressures against long-term sustainability goals.

Cultivating a Sustainable Culture
Success in sustainability begins at the top but must permeate all levels of an organization. McGregor places significant emphasis on developing a vision that integrates sustainability into company strategy, planning, and even remuneration systems. "Communication is key," he asserts, advocating for transparency about successes, challenges, and strategic shifts to avoid the pitfalls of 'greenwashing.'

He argues that sustainability should be leveraged not just ethically but also commercially. Investors, consumers, and employees, particularly the younger generations, are increasingly valuing sustainability, which should be clearly reflected in business practices. Moreover, financial strategies are now being tied directly to sustainability outcomes like carbon emissions reduction and biodiversity conservation, making them central to future business viability.

Staying Ahead in a Rapidly Evolving Landscape
McGregor points out several emerging trends critical for future-proofing businesses. In the new context boards need to embrace their expanding roles, which now include oversight on sustainability goals, competence in new regulatory environments, and ensuring actionable data is utilized effectively. With the transition to a low-carbon economy, embracing technological innovations, from electric vehicles to AI, is crucial.

Additionally, creating a purpose-driven culture within organizations is essential. McGregor stresses the importance of integrating a sustainability lens across all business decisions and units, led by the board. He also highlights the increasing regulatory and voluntary standards pressures, such as those from the TCFD (Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures) and GRI (Global Reporting Initiative), which are shaping corporate responses to sustainability demands.

The Role of Data and Inclusiveness in Sustainability
As customer expectations evolve, McGregor believes companies must reassess their operations and leadership to align with these new demands. This includes adapting recruitment strategies to focus more on inclusiveness and changing skillsets required by younger employees. "Data sits at the heart of most options," he concludes, emphasizing the need for robust data collection and analysis to guide sustainable practices.

In conclusion, McGregor's insights offer a roadmap for businesses aiming to navigate the complexities of the modern world. By embedding sustainability into the DNA of corporate strategies, boards can lead their organizations towards a more sustainable, profitable, and ethically responsible future.

James McGregor will facilitate the Masterclass "Sustainability as Core Value: Implications for Boards and Enterprise Leaders" for top level professionals on 23rd of May. More information and how to register here.



Could you discuss the evolving role of board members in driving sustainability initiatives within organizations, and the importance of diversity and inclusion in board composition?
The role of the Board is changing – energy, technology, geopolitics, globalisation. The risks over every decision have changed also: for you, your firm, and your country, clients, competitors, supply chains. A diverse, inclusive Board reduces risks, enhances opportunities, and increases commercial profitability. In all this context leadership is key, but corporate Boards are lagging currently and need to catch-up, lead, make decisions/ investments. 
Defining sustainability (baseline, regulatory compliance, risks and opportunities) is an initial step. Achieving and maintaining sustainability is a process of persistent change (targets, indicators). Emerging legal and formal responsibilities for boards around sustainability (audit, regulatory)
In your experience, what are some successful strategies for fostering a culture of sustainability and engaging employees at all levels of an organization in sustainability efforts?
I would put on the first place Vision Development: push into strategy, planning, remuneration. After, communication is equally important – communicate successes, challenges, direction changes. When fostering a culture of sustainability, it’s essential to pass the know-how on all layers of the company, including the one about avoiding ‘greenwashing’. 
Important is how to leverage sustainability on the Commercial level, for investors, consumers, staff, Gen Z, shareholders – all care deeply about sustainability and your business needs to reflect this accurately and without doubt. Last but not least, financing is increasingly linked to sustainability indicators – carbon emissions reduction, biodiversity, nature, water use, so take these parameters very seriously for the future sustainability of your company. 
With the rapid evolution of the ESG landscape, what emerging trends do you foresee shaping the future of sustainable business practices, and how can boards support companies to stay ahead of the curve?
In this new context I see a number of trends that will shape business practices. Boards definitely have new responsibilities: oversight, competence, penalties, actionable data, sustainability ‘pulse’ and transition planning. 
Second, company need to Embrace Change. Which change you might ask? Transition to a low-carbon economy is the biggest economic push, with new technologies/ products being suggested. But there will be winners and losers. EVs? Hydrogen? AI? 

Third, companies have to work to develop a purpose-driven culture. But what does that entail?
Integration of sustainability lens (with risks and opportunities) across businesses/ units/ decisions, led by the Board. 

More, in this new context I notice a Regulatory push (TCFD, TNFD, CSDDD, CSRD), Voluntary standards push (SASB, GRI, IIRC, CDP, CDSP) and Shareholder push: many examples of campaigners and ‘regular’ shareholders ensuring action is taken. 

Customers are changing. Companies and organisations need to ask “what does this mean for my operations, leadership, business needs?”. More, the recruitment needs to be made under different parameters, in order to respond to the increasing focus on inclusiveness, important for younger employees, and companies need to take into consideration the change in skillsets. 

Very important: data sits at the heart of most options. Organisations need to consider how and what is collected/ collated/ reported.