CFO Day panel urges CFOs to use their superpowers to ‘do good’

Mike Davis, CJ Kujenga and Masibulele Dem reveal that ESG is more than just climate change.

During one of the insightful sessions at CFO Day on 11 May, held at Marble restaurant in Rosebank, more than 100 finance professionals gathered around lunch tables heard that ESG is more than just climate change.

“Most of us think of ESG as climate change, but there’s a reason why there are three letters in the acronym,” said Nedbank CFO Mike Davis.

He explained that, for finance professionals, the easiest of the three letters to understand is governance. “This talks to the board and exco compositions, frameworks, policies, practices, transformation, and remuneration, all of which is how you structure the organisation to effectively manage not only the business, but the environmental and social aspects of ESG as well.”

Agreeing with Mike that far too much time is spent on the ‘E’ in ESG, Ascendis Health CFO and interim CEO CJ Kujenga explained that CFOs are not spending enough time talking about how to build sustainable organisations. “As senior leadership, we make decisions that have far-reaching consequences. In making these decisions, are we thinking about their impact beyond just the environment?”

She added that CFOs need to think about how sustainable these decisions are in terms of the societies businesses operate in, the people within the organisation, as well as the financial metrics the business uses. “Often problems that manifest themselves as numbers come from much deeper than that and root down to the decisions we make.”

Hulisani CFO and interim CEO Masibulele Dem, however, believes that ESG initiatives should start at the ‘E’ and ‘S’. “We talk about ESG in the context of business, that it is a commercial imperative. But we need to look at it from a much higher level – as a life imperative. We live on this beautiful earth, and the extent at which we are able to sustain it is the extent to which we as humanity are able to survive and exist.”

He explained that other issues relating to business, like the ‘G’, need to come on the back of that. “We’ve seen the floods and riots, as well as the things we do in pursuit of commerce, and the destruction it has caused. We won’t have an Earth to live on much longer if it carries on like this. And where does business begin to fit in if Earth is almost destroyed from social and environmental crises?”

Masibulele emphasised that ESG needs to be more than just a compliance issue.

Echoing Masibulele and CJ, Mike said that ESG is not just “a nice to have”, but that it has to be a long-term sustainable goal. “It has to be part of the culture and purpose of the organisation.”

Masibulele further stated that the discussion around ESG needs to start at a board level and should be driven down into the organisation through the executive leadership of the company. “It needs to be part of the business strategy, and the best way to keep finance leaders accountable for it is to make it a financial commitment by honouring some of the company’s budget to ESG initiatives.”

He explained that CFOs hold powerful and influential positions in businesses, and that this gives them a golden opportunity to contribute to something that is truly meaningful. “Let’s use these superpowers to drive the companies we’re in to ‘do good’.”