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The Silent Partners And The Counterfeiters - How Environmental Crises Are Changing The Role Of Board

We were honoured to welcome Philippe Joubert founder of Earth on Board as a keynote speaker during the occasion of a bell-ringing ceremony with Euronext. Philippe is one of the leading voices on sustainability & the role of the board, and is a key expert in our Director Climate Journey, co-organised with Vlerick business school.

Here we share some highlights of Philippe’s inspiring call-to-action for board members, as shared during his keynote speech.

We have been doing business-as usual for far too long, taking nature as free, unlimited and silent. However, we start seeing signals from nature that this “golden time” is over, and we must be prepared to receive the bill. As we reach, and even surpass, planetary boundaries we are seeing new risks and consequences of this old business model. Externalities are already visible on our profit and loss accounts, assets are becoming stranded or overvalued, supply chains are disrupted, access to resources (once abundant) are becoming more and more strained

In a resource scarce world, businesses will not have priority over the basic needs of people. We see this already with droughts happening more frequently and strict allocation of resources happening at regional and local level. As a result, measurement and reporting of water footprints will be an essential part of management reports in the near future.

Ignoring externalities is economically stupid, and it will push businesses to make wrong assessments and ultimately, wrong decisions. Beyond being reckless, it is also socially unacceptable for businesses to operate in this way. Increasingly, society wants businesses to be part of the solution and not anymore just a cause of the problem.

Considering nature as free and unlimited is also legally dangerous, and brings a real risk to the board of directors. New and changing regulations (both soft and hard laws), angry stakeholders and increasingly convinced lawyers will put businesses in a difficult position.

Our silent partner is less and less silent, and will soon be testing our adaptation and resilience. Business has a key role to play, and the board of directors will lead this change, once they have understood that it is their duty to do so.

And so this leads us to the counterfeiters. As Philippe shared, there is no bigger sin for a board than to declare a profit that does not exist or is not correct. And yet, this is what we are all doing by not paying for the cost of services rendered by nature, or paying for the impact we are having on nature. Therefore the profits we are using to distribute dividends and pay bonuses are not the right ones.

“It is not because we decided that CO2 in the atmosphere has no price that it has no cost.

We are simply sending the bill to the next generation.”

It is time to accept the scientific conclusion informing us that we are operating on a planet with boundaries and to come back to the purpose of business, which is to be useful and desirable to society, not destructive.

Our silent partner is not so silent anymore, and it is time to stop being counterfeiters by simply passing the bill on to the next generation. The board has a great challenge and duty to take the lead on these issues.

Thank you Philippe Joubert for sharing your wisdom, insights and call to action with the audience during this event.


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