AMCHAM T&T’s 2nd Annual Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Conference 2024


AMCHAM T&T’s 2nd Annual Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) 2024
Nirad Tewarie, Chief Executive Officer, AMCHAM T&T.

All right, so I don’t have a speech per se because I have some things that I want to try and communicate more as a conversation.

In 2021, AMCHAM, T&T – our board, members of the secretariat – we were redoing or developing our new strategic plan that is now our 2022- 2024 strat plan. And I like to give credit where it’s due. Dominic Rampersad, who was on the board at the time and who is the President of PPGPL spoke about transforming the conversation around HSE, which as you know, is one of our key pillars and something that we’ve been doing for about 30 years here at AMCHAM T&T, to more of a sustainability conversation.

It took us a little while. Several board members were in support, Toni, Giselle and others who had been doing this in their organizations already – And it took us a little while and we had to do some research. And in 2022, at the beginning of it, I certainly came back all hot and sweaty, telling everybody in AMCHAM and the secretariat that we were going down this ESG journey. I started looking at courses on how we get certified. And needless to say, I was excited but confused. And then within the membership, we started talking and we launched our ESG committee toward the end of the year in 2022 with a committed group of very excited people. Indu Sharma chaired that first committee and continues to chair today. Rachel had already been doing training and doing some work on this. So, we had industry leaders who were actually practitioners working with us.

Then we had the first conference last year, and there was a lot of buzz and excitement. Companies seemed like, “yes, this is something that we can get on board with, and we’re all trying to do this”. And then it went well. All the feedback was great. But then we started seeing pockets of banning ESG considerations and financing in some places. We started seeing some companies or some lobbyists saying that ESG considerations are going to make it impossible to do business and raise the cost of business. And now we’re at a point where it seems like a lot of people are unsure about whether ESG is going to be a good thing, a bad thing, a neutral thing, or anything at all in a few years. And so to me, that is a context against which we are having this year’s conference.

And I’m not going to get into the details of ESG because I think we have a wonderful agenda. We’re going to deal with ESG standards and compliance and reporting, we’re going to deal with governance in a big way. We’re going to deal with impact, among other things.

So, if we were to take a step back to why there might have been excitement and why there still is excitement amongst a large section of the business community and society in general, it is because – let me oversimplify it and talk about the butterfly effect – how many of you all know or have an idea what the butterfly effect is?

The concept of the butterfly effect?

Well, not many people. Okay. That means that I have to talk more.

So really, simply put. And I actually looked up this explanation, and if I read it to you, the definition, you’re gonna cry because they make it so complex. But basically, it is what is the potential impact of a small, seemingly insignificant event that could have big consequences elsewhere?

So let use the metaphor of the butterfly again. Let’s just say there were butterfly flitting when you went outside and you went back in time, or you came from the future, and you came back in time, and you took that butterfly, and you caught it. But remember, you’re back from the future, so there was no way for you to catch it in 2024. And that butterfly was the butterfly that brought your parents together, because they both came to admire the butterfly together on the flower. And therefore, by removing the butterfly in 2024, future 2050, YOU don’t exist. Right?

And future 2050, you were the person who would have been able to reduce greenhouse gases on planet Earth and create an ecosystem that would allow mankind to survive. And since you removed the butterfly and then you don’t exist, mankind went extinct. Point being, we do not know the impact of a single small action that we take. It could be negative, it could be positive, it could be neutral.

And so if we think about that in the context of our WHY and the context of ESG, we should, and I think everybody in this room, I’m going to guess, generally, and most human beings want to do good, want to be a force for good in some way. And if we want to be a force for good, and we say our Y is X to be a force for good, and then we further define that in business, in sport, in religion, in whatever, then we go to our HOW.

How do we be that force for good? And then what do we do? You would notice I manipulated this image slightly to show that sometimes our why, our how, and our what will take place in the unknown. Right? So, the paper is what we know and what we could write and what we could define. And the black space is the unknown, the stuff that we’ll figure out along the way. And so if our WHY is what led us to our ESG journey, because we want to do good, we want to work for companies, create companies, be in companies, be in spaces where we are making a positive impact, then we also have to consider our “why” and how it defines our “how” and our “what”.

And even if we don’t start asking ourselves, or haven’t already asked ourselves, because only we can answer the question of what is our why for ourselves, we have to understand that whether we are only concerned about quarterly or annual profits our targets or not, in reality, businesses are accountable to everyone.

This is a non-exhaustive list, right? But you would see local communities. What does that mean? That means the school. That means the shops, that means the people. That means the natural capital or the environment, NGO’s, the general public.

General public, could they be more unspecific?

So, if we are accountable to everyone, and we at AMCHAM T&T firmly believe this, long before the conversation about ESG, and I’m not saying that we’re unique, I’m just saying that for all of our existence, every single board and leadership of AMCHAM T&T has seen our role as doing more than just helping businesses do more business. Although, we think that by helping businesses do more business in
an ethical way, we will achieve that goal. And that goal is to improve society and make Trinidad and Tobago, and the wider Caribbean, at the very least, more vibrant, a better place to live and create the conditions for more fulfilled people in these spaces. And so, if we accept that we are accountable, as businesses, as business leaders, as employees, to this wide cross section of people, the concept of ESG and the implementation of ESG frameworks, gives us some tools.

To us and to most people that I’ve listened to and read, and I’m not an ESG expert, so I’m also here to learn but it does start with governance, though, right? Because if we don’t put in place, and I’m proud to say two things about AMCHAM T&T that we are currently doing is a governance review that we expect to have the first draft of the report completed within a month. I would say maybe less, the review itself, and then the implementation, will start.

But I’m also proud to say that when that was proposed, I was really, really nervous and uncomfortable and I wasn’t sure I backed it. But I’ve come along and I’m proud to say that because I hope that is a sign that I, like most of you, I’m willing to learn and change my position based on information that comes to us. And if we think therefore, that our why is somehow connected to positive impact, and we think of that in the context of ESG, it should for businesses affect hearts, bottom lines, and minds, and that would lead to more sustainable businesses by making a positive impact, but only if we’re authentic. Because we all know that communication that is proven to be inauthentic is actually more dangerous and more negatively impactful for your brand than non-communication about things that we don’t actually practice.

But we’re all on journeys and times change and maybe at some point we were getting something right and so were communicating it but along the way our focus shifted, and our attention shifted, and we need to revisit that.

The only big thing that I think is missing from this is values. There’s value which can probably be measured in dollars and cents, but everything starts from your why and what you believe in, and what’s your purpose as the people in the company. Because the company is a thing. Yes, it is a legal entity, yes, it has an identity, but it is brought to life by us, by the people. And so how do we consistently create an alignment between what we say we are and what we actually are?

Understanding that it will never be a perfect alignment because we are all dealing with change, with resource constraints, we are in states of flux and global change, and we are impacted by events that might happen from time to time. How do we find some time and some space to try and get that right? Well, measurement helps. And that is a big thing that I think we’re going to get out of our interaction with the concept and practice of ESG. And we’re certainly going to get some of that here today, because all of the experts that we have communicated with that I’ve read and listened to on various podcasts and the like, make the point that you can’t do everything at the same time. Right?

So, you have to start with some things, and you have to ensure that you are able, therefore, to know whether you are achieving your objectives or not, or what you say that you are going to do. So, measurement matters. But what we can’t do, though, is do only some things to tick boxes but when we think of the impact, it is minimal.

So, as I get ready to close, think of this image as a system, as a society. Whether you consider the society Trinidad and Tobago, the region, the globe, doesn’t matter. And sometimes we think that the system can’t change. So even if we don’t, even if we want to apply something like the butterfly effect, we feel overwhelmed. Well, a couple of things: the system is all interconnected, and the system is made up of nodes. And what are the nodes?

What are these things? The nodes? They all connect stuff. The nodes are me and you. We are the nodes. The big nodes might be companies, the big nodes might be chambers, but the nodes are us. And so, if we say the system isn’t working, then what are we doing in the system to change it a little bit and to create that impact. And I believe that is relevant to our why and to our ESG conversations. And I think, and I hope that we’re going to cover a lot of that today.

So let me leave you with just a couple of things that we are doing here at AMCHAM T&T. Over the last six, seven years or so, we’ve been doing a woman’s leadership mentorship program and we’ve had more than 100 mentors, and 100 mentees pass through that program. And that is part of what we are doing to try and provide or create some impact.

We also have been supporting the Russell Latapy High School. At first, that started with a few staff members getting involved and helping the students. When we did that six years ago, the cohort of students that we started with, the form ones, by the time they hit form five, they had the highest completion rate in the history of the school as a percentage by our intervention. And now the TSL foundation, Unipet and Angostura have built a pan lab for the school because the school didn’t have the facilities to do the CVQs for those who were doing pan as a subject in school. And that pan lab can also be used for other labs as well as there can be some revenue generated from the creation of the pans, as a result of that.

So those are three of our members who have been doing some fantastic work in that school as a result of the intervention that we would have made originally and many more. And one of the things that we’re trying to do through the ESG committee is a waste management platform so that companies can put their waste for collection on the platform in advance, of course. And companies that are involved in recycling or reusing can then say, “okay, they will take it”. And that hopefully over time, we’ll have a significant impact on reduction of waste to the landfills and recycling and reuse of waste materials.

So those are just some of the things that we are doing. And I’m saying this because, as I said, we’re doing our governance review. We are working on our G, we are working on our S, and our S in the context of our E with the platform. So, we, too, are on our ESG journey. So, we’re trying our best to walk the talk so that we’re not, do as we say as opposed to do as we do.

I hope we have a fantastic day today. I cannot end without thanking Indu and Rachel and Giselle and the entire committee for all that they have done. And I want to tell you that this conference would not have happened without Melissa and Arianna. Melissa, who has provided not just logistical and operational support for it but thought leadership as well. And this has been a great part of our growth in AMCHAM T&T, as well as Ariana Choy and the entire secretariat. If I try to thank everybody, I’m going to leave someone out because there are so many people to thank and all of our sponsors and of course, the board for their vision and their support and their willingness to give space for us to try and to do new and different things. So, thank you very much for your time and attention, and I hope you have a fantastic conference with us today.