Investors, prospective employees, and the public are increasingly looking at corporate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) management and performance to assess the long-term value of companies and whether they should support corporate activities.
While ESG has gained increased traction and momentum recently, it has always been a key focus in Stratos’ work with corporate, public sector, and civil society clients over the last 21 years.
Much of the firm’s direction around corporate ESG has been shaped and later led by Julie Pezzack, one of Stratos’ owners and Vice President of its Corporate Sustainability Practice.
Julie joined Stratos at the beginning of the firm in 2000, after earning a master’s degree in environmental studies at Dalhousie University and working as an Environmental Management Consultant with Jacques Whitford Environment Ltd. (an environmental engineering firm acquired by Stantec).
In its early days, Stratos focused on public sector work. To diversify its client base and establish itself as a thought leader, the firm pioneered a benchmark survey of corporate sustainability reporting in Canada. First published in 2001, the survey identified all Canadian corporations that produced ESG and sustainability reports and applied a framework to assess the coverage and quality of their disclosures.
“It was this idea of transparency and credibility of disclosure—asking what Stratos can do to drive those values in the corporate market,” says Julie of the survey. “It definitely had influence because CEOs and disclosure experts within companies had targets to improve their ranking on Stratos benchmark surveys, and the government hired us to deliver training across the country on sustainability disclosure. We continue to support companies in ESG reporting to this day.”
Guided by similar merits of integrity and quality, honesty is another of Julie’s personal values that is mirrored in the way Stratos works with corporate clients. “We build a rapport with our clients so they really feel supported, but we also want to push them to perform better,” Julie elaborates.
She recalls a workshop Stratos facilitated for a company to develop its stakeholder and risk management processes ahead of pursuing a regulatory approval. During the workshop it became clear the client was not fully prepared and would likely face issues in the approval process.
Flagging these concerns, Stratos supported in drafting a memo on potential risks to the operations team and got involved in VP-level discussions and necessary steps to ensure the regulatory approval process would go ahead without delay and yield a positive outcome.
“We want to ensure our clients are credible in the public space as it relates to the commitments they’re making or what they are trying to achieve, so we feel it’s our obligation to play that challenger role” says Julie.
ESG strategy and management are diverse and complex in scope, and Julie and Stratos consultants design a customized approach for every project: “We get to know the risks and opportunities our clients face and work collaboratively with them to develop strategies that are practical and add value to their business in the short and long term.”
Keeping pace with the evolving nature of ESG
With leading practices and standards rapidly changing, Stratos consultants support corporate clients to digest the “alphabet soup” of national and global ESG frameworks.
One example is the trend toward mandatory climate-related disclosures in alignment with the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures or TCFD. Already mandatory in New Zealand and soon to be in the United Kingdom, the TCFD framework has been endorsed by the Government of Canada and will by 2024 become a reporting requirement for all Crown corporations. With a finger on the pulse of such regulatory changes, Julie and Stratos consultants ensure corporate clients are prepared to respond.
As the nature of ESG management evolves, so too does Stratos’ practice. Julie says recent years have seen an increased focus on climate risk, social performance and Indigenous relations work for companies, all while consultants continue to offer sought after services like ESG strategy, program development and implementation, ESG management reviews and public disclosure.
“At Stratos, we describe ourselves as trisector athletes—because we’re diversified and have a public sector practice and also work with civil society. As a result, we’re in tune with both policy and regulatory changes and evolving stakeholder expectations,” explains Julie. “We bring that understanding into our corporate practice to advise clients.”
Whether companies aspire to release their first ESG report or seek additional expertise to enhance an established ESG-related system or management practice, Stratos works with corporate clients across the spectrum of ESG maturity.
Says Julie on the shift in attitude she has seen toward valuing ESG performance: “Companies are recognizing more and more that this is the way you need to operate to be successful, and Stratos has 20+ years of experience facilitating the support needed to make that happen.”