For Fidelity International, the importance of sustainability cannot be ignored. The climate crisis is one of the most difficult challenges facing today’s generation and all companies have a role to play.
This year, Fidelity set a goal to reduce company-wide operational carbon emissions to net-zero by 2030, 20 years ahead of the 2050 goal most countries and many companies have set, along with a range of other sustainability goals.
While the easiest approach when setting any goal is to do the minimum required. That wasn’t good enough for Fidelity. It believes it is right that it does even more than it is asking the companies it invests in to do.
Leading by example
Ben Clifford is the company’s Global Health, Safety and Sustainability Associate Director and is relishing the challenge of leading the company into a brave new era of environmental responsibility. He is a man with a wealth of sustainability experience across many industries but reconfiguring the financial landscape has been his greatest test to date.
“My role focuses on our corporate operations,” he explains. “It’s about identifying our key environmental impacts, managing those from a sustainability point of view and striving to improve them.”
Many of Ben’s goals involve the development of ‘energy reduction sites’ – looking at how the company can switch to renewable energy and reassessing all the aspects of the business which have real, practical and positive environmental impacts.
Ben is under no illusions about the task for Fidelity and the wider industry and believes sustainability should always be at the forefront of all decisions. He explains: “We're a financial services and investment company, and for a long time sustainable investing has been a pivotal element of how we operate.
“We now see definite correlations between companies that have good sustainability performance and good economic performance – the two areas are inseparable. It's very much about turning the mirror on ourselves in terms of how we operate and how we wish to be viewed. In terms of approaches to sustainability and the mitigation of risks, we ask our partners to work with us to find solutions. In turn, we apply these practices ourselves and this increases credibility across the board.”
Hero to zero
Fidelity recently launched its first corporate sustainability report. One of the key commitments within it was a robust commitment that aims to achieve net-zero status by 2030 throughout corporate operations. In addition, it has made a net-zero commitment on the investment side by 2050.
There has also been considerable activity on the governance side. Ben says: “We've done a lot on the reporting and data capture side. Without good data, you can't see the impact of any of the initiatives that you implement.
“In 2020, we implemented our corporate sustainability committee – our central body where we manage all the different programmes, whether environment or social governance related."
Above all, the company wants to be open and transparent about where it is on the sustainability journey – clearly marking the plot points along the way. On this basis, Fidelity will be setting some short-term targets around 2024 across different areas.
With this 2024 target considered, it will look to reduce energy by 25%, overall carbon emissions by 25%, water usage at Fidelity sites by 25% and waste produced by that golden figure of 25%.
“It has been a fundamentally important decision to set these targets for 2024 – it keeps us focussed on the short to medium term and has really helped us make sure that we're on track for the 2030 goal, but also that we're aligning to the 1.5-degree scenario.”
People have spoken
The last few years have witnessed an increasingly ubiquitous sustainability culture at Fidelity, not just as a company belief system, but at an individual level. Instilling these focuses among employees has been vital in terms of achieving wider targets. Furthermore, it has created the brand of collective ambition which is necessary to uphold a true sustainability model.
“A lot of people understand that it is a big issue,” says Ben. “Whether it's climate change or biodiversity, they want to discover more about mitigating some of these impacts. We want to bring them on the journey with us, explain what goals we are aiming for, what they can do to help but also emphasise how it can benefit their normal day-to-day lives.”
Not only have Fidelity employees been very receptive in terms of what we need to do, they've also been pushing the company and challenging it to be more progressive in some of the programmes that it’s set. In the climate change era, this kind of symbiotic relationship within the corporate ecosystem is essential.
Ben explains: “In response to the positive staff response Fidelity has set up the Sustainability Ambassadors Programme and we now have over 200 ambassadors across the organisation, impacting on multiple different functions. The role looks at both the investment and corporate side, enabling individuals to embed initiatives within their regional and functional teams. Ultimately, it gives sustainability a much more personal perspective.”
The climate change crisis runs parallel with the digital era, inviting our lives to change with the ever-increasing evolution of technology. This situation is particularly stark in the finance sector which has, historically, involved considerable travel, paper usage and carbon emissions.
Ben believes that digital is and will be a considerable ally in the company’s own approach to climate change. “We've set for 2024 as our date to reduce paper by 50%,” he says. “We have also moved to more digital-based contracts and will continue moving towards more digital solutions in terms of how we operate as a business. This is a big area of growth in finance and we will be striving to progress in the digital space over the next few years.”
The digital dimension came into sharp focus for the company when COVID-19 struck in March 2020. Ben reflects: “Many of our people began working from home throughout the pandemic and, consequently, they haven't been printing as much, while also considerably reducing the business travel side or their job. Moreover, using collaboration tools and digital forms of communication has definitely reduced our overall carbon footprint.”
Back of the net
With Fidelity’s net-zero target only nine years away, it has applied five key principles to reaching the sustainability summit.
The first one is around the data, the verification of the data, the transparency of that data and, ultimately, the disclosure of it in external forums. “We want to challenge ourselves, but we want to make sure that we do it in a credible manner,” insists Ben. “Subsequently, we have had a big focus on data and the processes surrounding it.”
The second focus is on energy efficiency. This aspect looks at the electricity being consumed in Fidelity’s offices – a significant proportion of the company’s operational carbon footprint. Ben says: “We want to increase efficiency, both in terms of improving building infrastructures and looking at renewable energy sources, but also making sure we’re using all our spaces as efficiently as possible.”
The third area is around business travel and, specifically, air travel. Another significant proportion of the company’s wider global operational footprint. Remote working has, in this regard, also been a revelation with far fewer corporate trips and a much greater number of virtual events.
Renewable energy is the fourth item on the manifesto with Fidelity prioritising the switch to renewable energy contracts or onsite renewable generation. This step has already been undertaken at two of the company’s offices, with other feasibility studies underway.
The fifth really drills down on the carbon emissions from Fidelity’s operations it is unable to eradicate – establishing residual emissions and making every effort to create rapid solutions for carbon removal.
Dancing to a different tune
Fidelity International’s sustainability efforts and impact are already resonating through the company.
The company epitomises the optimism and determination of neo-sustainability companies who reach above the general standards and have instead begun to navigate the terrain according to their own higher expectations.
Following COP26 it has become clear that the future involves company autonomy over their own responsibilities to people and the planet – effectively transcending their own service provision and making sustainability the defining aspect of what they do.
This culture shift has been accelerated by Fidelity’s own 2024 set of milestones – six years before the recommended year of 2030.
By setting this immediate ‘future-proofing standard’ the hazy non-specifics of international conferences and government recommendations suddenly become crystallised; representing something people can believe in.
That is the sign of something authentic and, above all, something sustainable.