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Being a sustainability lead at The Economist – PODCAST

Clarasys meets Emily Jackson, Senior Vice President of Sustainability at The Economist Group to discuss her role and offer advice to others.

simply sustainability podcast

Global media organisation The Economist Group's SVP of Sustainability, Emily Jackson, chats to Clarasys' Sam Maguire about being a sustainability lead.

In the ninth episode of 'Clarasys presents: Simply Sustainability', the pair discuss; how Emily landed and shaped her role and what it involves including challenges and achievements, how The Economist Group are committed to sustainability, and advice for other sustainability leaders to be successful.

Listen here or read on for an edited transcript.

Sam Maguire: Welcome to our Simply sustainability podcast presented by Clarasys. In this series, we look at what can sometimes be the intimidating topic of sustainability and break it down into digestible bite-sized chunks to help you on your way to a more sustainable future.

I'm here with Emily Jackson today from The Economist, really excited to speak to her about her journey into being the sustainability lead at the organization. Emily, would you be able to introduce yourself and your role in particular at the Economist?

How did you become a sustainability lead?

Emily Jackson: Yes. So my name is Emily Jackson. I'm based in Frankfurt and I've been working for The Economist Group for over 14 years now. And formally took over as the Senior Vice President of Sustainability in 2021.

But actually, my career started or has largely been in sales and business development. And I lead our brand partnerships in Germany and in Austria and have also led The Economist events business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. And it was actually through one of my key client partnerships fairly early on in my time at The Economist Group that I started working on topics very closely related to environmental sustainability. And one of the programs I've worked on was called The Green City Indexes, and we launched at the now ill-fated COP15 in Copenhagen. And I think that was really the beginning of, you know, my interest in sustainability.

And at the end of 2019, I kind of leaned in more actively. We had an internal network called The Economist Sustainability Group, which I joined and it was focusing on building a sustainability strategy for The Economist. And, you know, I'm really fortunate to work for a company that supports its colleagues in exploring different avenues in their careers and I worked on educating myself. I read a lot. I attended an online course at the Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership. And now I'm in the role as SVP of Sustainability.

Sam Maguire: Wow. And what was it that hooked you, it's obviously such a diverse and wide topic, but was there a kind of a particular reason that it captured your imagination?

Emily Jackson: Yes. I mean, my understanding was that sustainability is about climate change and I think through that project, I realized the issues are very interconnected. You know, they're geopolitical, it's related to finance, it's related to the way businesses are run, there are social issues and just looking at The Green City Index, as you see it, how much of a holistic approach needs to be taken to cities or to governments or to countries. And I think that's what really piqued my interest, that this is such a huge challenge and a huge endeavour to undertake, to tackle climate change. That's really what got me started.

Sam Maguire: Do you know what, I think that is what for me is a similar thing. It's so interesting the scale of the challenge. What are The Economist doing to kind of make sure that you are doing your part in addressing the challenge? What's your ambition in this space?

What are The Economist's sustainability ambitions?

Emily Jackson: So we are a media company and The Economist Group exists to champion progress. And this is a progress that is fundamentally threatened by climate change. And as I just said, it affects everything whether it's, geopolitics, economics, finance, and it shapes our life expectancies, it shapes our lives and cities and the natural environments, biodiversity, and still through our content across all of our businesses, we can make a fundamental impact that's really key.

So what we do through our content is strive to identify the trends, the ideas, that will shape sustainable global developments. And it provides individuals, it provides businesses with the insights and perspectives that they need to press forward sustainably. And it's a huge collective endeavour to work toward this.

What we're doing specifically is we've developed an environmental sustainability framework with three pillars: manage, measure and mitiage, to help us drive our progress.

Manage is how we weave sustainability into our growth and our operations and drive climate action throughout the organization. It's how we draw attention to climate issues. It's also through leadership. So our leadership team is accountable for our sustainability strategy. It's in their KPIs, so accountability rests with them. And we have a formalized network throughout the organization, The Economist Sustainability Group.

In terms of measure, we're building a really data-driven understanding of what an environmental impact is. And that's not just emissions. We've just recently conducted a life cycle assessment. We've also conducted a plastics assessment and leakage assessment.

And then it's about mitigation. So what are we doing with that data? And what we're striving to do is set ambitious targets based on what we've measured. We have a science-based target 25% to 2025. And our vision is to half our emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2045.

Sam Maguire: Fantastic.

Emily Jackson: I think that kind of sums it up.

Sam Maguire: There's clearly a lot going on. Could you kind of give me, or paint a little bit of a picture of, what is a day in the life of Emily at The Economist and what is it in terms of making those three areas happen? How does that work?

What does your day-to-day sustainability lead role at The Economist look like?

Emily Jackson: That is a good question. So I think overall it's about driving the strategy. It's about making sure that sustainability is embedded in our organization and the way we do business and things like the measurement piece is hugely important. So measuring our greenhouse gas emissions. We have automated carbon management now. So making sure that we're tracking that information, we're tracking everything to do with our products, but it's also around the communication of driving long-term change. It's about working towards a vision and getting everybody behind you to understand that vision and work towards it. So it's a very comprehensive role and it's dealing with the entire organization and the way that we do business.

Sam Maguire: Absolutely. And one of the things in terms of that embedding that I believe you're working on is how do you enable others to kind of lead on this and how can they be part of the change? How have you kind of approached that?

How do you bring others on board with sustainability?

Emily Jackson: I think you need to be a changing agent. You need to have a very entrepreneurial spirit, but you also need to know your business to be able to help transform the way business is done. So do you understand your business? Do you understand the way it ticks? How does your business drive value? What's your value model? I mean, what social environmental impacts impact your own business? And The Economist is different to every other business, you need to understand the way your own business functions.

You also need to build communities and networks within your organization to be able to move that change forward. So it's also about understanding the strategy. How can you connect sustainability to your business strategy? How can sustainability help you build opportunities for the organization? And it's also about making sure that it's not something that's perceived as a pet project. If you really want to get traction, you need to use the language of the business. You need to use the language of your business and tie it into the strategy.

I think also it's about breaking it down into manageable chunks. What is the vision? What is it that you're trying to do, and working towards that how do you need to get there or keep it realistic? And that's how you get people on board because you've understood how sustainability can weave into the way your organization is doing its business and can help as a driver, of innovation of new opportunities.

Sam Maguire: Got it. So there are some clear steers about how to go about things. Was there anything in particular, if you were put in a time machine, went back to 2019 when you were kind of going to kick off this role that you'd say to yourself?

Three pieces of advice for a sustainability lead at the start of their career

Emily Jackson: Yes - to change anything within an organization you need support from your leadership. So leadership is absolutely key in driving change and overcoming barriers and capitalizing any transformational change within an organization. So that is key.

The second point would be wherever you are in your business or in your sphere of influence, you can make a change. You can have an influence.

Thirdly, I would say, keep taking a step back, keep remembering what your objective is and what the vision is and take inspiration and positive feedback from those small successes because there will be hurdles along the way. There will be challenges to overcome. If you stay focused on that vision that you've set out to achieve, then you can get there. I think those would be the three things.

Sam Maguire: Got it. And so you mentioned some of the hurdles there. I wanted to pick up on that. What have been the biggest challenges that you have seen in your role, but also what have been the enjoyable bits? What are the things that you actually love?

Sustainability lead challenges

Emily Jackson: I think one of the things is basically education, so what does sustainability mean? And there's sometimes a common perception that sustainability means climate change.

Sam Maguire: Yep.

Emily Jackson: And it's educating that sustainability challenges are actually manifolds and they're interconnected. So coming back to the point at the beginning, It affects the economy, society, geopolitics, technology and the environment. And it's also bringing that across that these are really interconnected issues. So I think that's one thing.

The second is also about education, enabling education, enabling advocacy and helping people understand the issue so that they can apply that in the role or the seat of influence that they have.

Sam Maguire: Then they're clearly two big challenges to overcome. At dinner last night, I was speaking to someone about it and I said, humans are not very good at nuance, are we? Like, we're not very good at being able to understand the huge complexity around topics all the time. So it's about making it really simple. And for us, it's, we've kind of advocated for prioritizing. You've got to do that materiality assessment. You've got to go 'we maybe can't solve every single problem. Where do we want to allocate our time and our resources as effectively as possible?'

What about the most enjoyable aspects of being a sustainability lead? What are the things that you kind of go home after a day of work or switch off the computer for after a day of zooms and go, 'that was brilliant. I loved doing that'?

What do you love about being a sustainability lead?

Emily Jackson: I think the most enjoyable aspect for me has been getting to know the business from the inside out.

Coming from a sales and business development background it was my job to build external networks. In this role, my job is to build internal networks and to understand exactly how the organization functions. How does it work? How do we deliver our services? How do we deliver our products? And then working with those individuals to A) measure our emissions, measure where we stand, understand our impacts across the organization, but then to use those relationships to drive our sustainability agenda forwards, but also to bring people on board because coming back to the challenges you were just asking about, change is a big challenge, it's a big hurdle. Getting people to do things differently, to start seeing things through the sustainability lens, to understand that when they are designing new products or innovating that if you take social and environmental issues into consideration, you can actually build better products, you can design better services that are better for the stakeholders that you're trying to work with, but also better for your business, you know, business opportunities. So understanding the stakeholders throughout your value chain, the partnerships that you have, and listening to them, using that information to, you know, to see things through the sustainability lens is really important.

Sam Maguire: And have you found that that's been the best way to motivate people is to represent the value of what it can bring to them if they do focus on environmental and social aspects, as well as kind of traditional performance metrics?

Emily Jackson: Absolutely. I mean, sustainability is not something that can be tagged on to an organization, but it can be a driver of value. It can be a driver of value to all of the stakeholders that you work with as an organization. And that's key. You know, whether it's colleagues, whether it's the communities that you work with, whether it's your customers, whether it's your investors. It can drive value for all of these different stakeholders. And I think that's such a key point, it's not something that just gets added on to a business and you're ticking the box.

Sam Maguire: No. Fantastic. Now I want to ask you about one of those brilliant days when you achieved something that you're really proud of. What immediately springs to mind if I asked you what's the thing that you're most proud of achieving?

What are you most proud of achieving as a sustainability lead?

Emily Jackson: Receiving validation for our science-based targets with the SBTi, so our 25% to 20 to 25 target was a huge validation and a huge success for us.

We've also made commitments to the business ambition to 1.5 degrees at the UNFCCC Race To Zero Campaign. So that again is a big commitment for the organization, for our leadership and we've joined the net zero carbon events pledge. So these are really important milestones for us and it's setting that long-term vision and ambition for the organization, so the kind of north star that we're working towards.

Also what I'm personally really pleased about is building a network collaborating with peers outside of our organization so working with our suppliers, working with industry peers, and building up closer relationships for doing that, particularly through the responsible media forum. So that is another way of driving the sustainability agenda forward beyond the speed of our own organization

Sam Maguire: Fantastic. And then what I wanted to just ask you finally, you obviously mentioned that before you were sustainability lead you didn't necessarily come from a sustainability background - it's been a bit of a longer journey towards this role. Is there any particular literature or courses that you've used along the way that you would advise other people to take a look at?

Which resources would you recommend to other sustainability leads?

Emily Jackson: Education is a really powerful way of getting the message across, across the board. So I would strongly recommend if anyone is wanting to change their career or go down the sustainability route, that they look into a course, a school or university giving that business dimension. So applying it to the business setting. It helps you see and understand sustainability from that ecosystem perspective, from the systemic perspective, but also how to apply that to the reality of the business that you're working on. So I attended a course at CISL the Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership, which I can highly recommend. There are other courses.

A book that I highly recommend is Breaking Boundaries by Johan Rockström. I think there's also a film on Netflix of the same name, but the book is great.

Also listening to podcasts is a great way of just finding out what's going on. At the moment my particular favourite is Outrage + Optimism which is hosted by Christiana Figueres. And The Economist also had a short series podcast called To a Lesser Degree, which is a good way of getting an overview of, you know, a bit more of what the issues are behind climate change.

And also attend events. So there are a lot of events that are free to attend, virtual events where you can listen in to sessions, listen to experts and I think that's a great resource. Often free of sucking in a lot of information to understand the space and also find which direction you think is right for you and for your business.

Sam Maguire: Absolutely. I can completely advocate both for your book recommendation, which is one of the bases of a lot of the training that we do internally at Clarasys. We focus on the nine planetary boundaries, and also the podcast. I'm not sure I'm quite at the same level as Christiana just yet, but hopefully, we'll get there one day on the Simply sustainability podcast.

Brilliant. Thank you, Emily, so much for talking us through your story and giving us some really helpful tips that hopefully those who are moving into sustainability lead roles or have been doing it for years can use. So huge thank you for that.

Emily Jackson: Yeah, no, great. I mean, I suppose one of my last points is you know, it takes individuals within organizations. It takes networks of individuals, it takes passion to move forward. So if you are a change agent, if you're somebody that is passionate about sustainability, it's about grabbing the opportunity, it's about starting initiatives in your organization, building up for successes and taking an entrepreneurial approach and there's a lot that you can do. So, dive in.

Sam Maguire: Dive in, brilliant. Thank you, Emily.

Thank you for listening to our simply sustainability podcast. We hope you enjoyed it for more information, please contact us at sustainably@clarasys.com.

To find out how our sustainability consulting can help you, get in touch. To find out more about The Economist Group check out their website or follow them on LinkedInFacebook or Twitter.

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