Julia Wilson, VP, Global Responsibility & Sustainability, Nielsen, recently sat down with Martin Whittaker, CEO of JUST Capital, to pick up a conversation about the connection points among social and environmental issues, opportunities for corporate impact and investment, as well as how consumer preferences—and a focus on trust and access to information—are driving business forward.
“Trust of large corporations is still very low; we see that in our own work and in the work of others,” said Whittaker. “We’re in the process of rebuilding that trust—not just with consumers but for the public at large. I think companies are aware of the need to invest in their social license to do business, [and] that companies will want to know that the information that is being used by consumers to make decisions is good information. So I think there’s going to be a lot of focus on the quality of data, the meaning of information, where is it coming from…It’s like anything, to build trust, you have to have that sense of openness [and] transparency.”
Whittaker cited the connections between company performance on “just” themes—like worker pay and environmental impact—with stronger financial performance, also focusing on the important role that investment can play in advancing action on corporate social responsibility and sustainability issue areas.
“Influencing how capital flows, and certainly influencing the way investors think about the themes that we cover, is really important for companies to understand,” said Whittaker. “We found that the more investors use our data, use our rankings, invest in “just” funds, the more companies were interested in that and wanted to really understand how their Investor Relations, their corporate leadership, C-suite, and Boards connected the dots between their performance on social and environmental issues and their financial performance.'' JUST Capital has launched a series of indices, including an exchange traded fund (Ticker: JUST) with Goldman Sachs Asset Management in June 2018.
Nielsen research shows that consumers care about sustainability and are willing to change their consumption habits to address their own impact on the environment. Whittaker shared some examples of how these human and environmental needs intersect with opportunities for corporate impact. “Consumers are very motivated by aspects of environmental impact and a company’s environmental footprint,” said Whittaker. “We see it in health for example. We know people really want to drink clean water, they want to breathe clean air...Environmental impacts that affect health and the health of communities I think are very important.”
Looking forward, Whittaker predicted that the wave of disclosure and transparency is only going to pick up steam. He predicts that companies will continue to “dig deep” in terms of determining what kind of data to share, and with which stakeholder groups. “I certainly feel as though we’ll know a lot more about corporate leadership across a whole range of things which ten years ago you’d never even have thought of companies being too concerned about,” said Whittaker.