A personal end-of year message from our CEO, Dr Assheton Stewart Carter
Dear clients, collaborators, and competitors; friends and colleagues,
First, thank you to all those continuing to work and partner with us, and to those new clients who have taken the leap to contract TDi in 2023. Our mission is to serve businesses committed to corporate sustainability and to support our clients over the long term. Most of our clients have been with us for five years or more, a substantial minority from since TDi began. We couldn’t continue without you, and we hope you feel the same!
What have we learned in 2023?
When I wrote last year I noted that the ‘buzzistas’ at Davos were insisting we get used to the idea of the polycrisis. A year on, has this passed, or is it just beginning? I try my best to avoid speculation or assumptions, but I conclude that whether we are in crisis that has a beginning, middle and an end, or this is just how it is and will be, that TDi and our clients have had our resilience tested and we have persevered. Whatever is thrown at us, we’ll figure a way through. We’ll keep on keeping on and we’ll adapt along the way. That makes the discipline of strategy and planning, and our jobs just a bit more exciting!
That makes the discipline of strategy and planning, and our jobs just a bit more exciting!
Encouraging to see is the rising support for peer collaborations to solve stubborn sustainability problems. My first job when I moved to the USA in 2000 was to lead the multi-stakeholder Energy and Biodiversity Initiative, and since then I’ve been a keen advocate that we have to make pre-competitive and ‘x-sector’ partnerships function and be impactful – doing so is hard work, don’t think it isn’t, but taking joint responsibility for addressing root causes of sticky environmental and social problems and risks is really the only way forward. One such collaboration – the Coloured Gemstone Working Group – we have been managing for many years. We seeded and founded The Impact Facility and launched through this UK charity the Fair Cobalt Alliance and the Lake Victoria Gold Partnership. These are ever more relevant every new day.
This year, we launched two more multi-party sustainability initiatives with our clients: The Solar Stewardship Initiative (SSI), which is gaining support daily for the ambition to certify solar modules and their inputs along the length of this renewable energy supply chain; and The Circularity in Primary Pharmaceutical Packaging Accelerator (CiPPPA), a brand-new programme to tackle recycling of blister packs, inhalers and injector pens. This is great stuff – seeing whole sectors get together to drive sustainability performance.
We’re all feeling the effects of the arrival of new supply chain and environmental and human rights regulations. In principal, this is what is needed. Clarity on what society’s expectations are and a level playing field to develop profitable businesses. But the compliance burden can be massive. Many are struggling to understand how to meet requirements, and not only smaller companies. Multinationals’ compliance challenges are compounded by virtue of operating in multiple jurisdictions. Our recent review of the EU’s Conflict Minerals Regulation for the Commission, shows that EU members states too are struggling to verify conformance. Compliance is here to stay, and, so it seems, economic unpredictability. This means we need more efficient ways to respond to legs and regs, make it easier, and less burdensome on stretched budgets. Something for which TDi Digital is dedicated to finding solutions (see below).
The compliance burden can be massive. Many are struggling to understand how to meet requirements, and not only smaller companies.
The recent climate COP has had some successes: for the first time there was an agreement to phase out/move away from hydrocarbons, but also some setbacks. The doubt cast over forest-based carbon offsets and credits is unfortunate. I was part of the team that wrote the first standards for such projects, and they have done a lot of good around the world delivering multiple benefits: carbon sequestration, community economic development, protection of Indigenous Peoples territory, and nature conservation. We continue to work on such projects to ensure they meet high standards. We should not discard a good thing, but fix the problems with it. Shame on us if we undermine this almost 25-year movement to mitigate the effects of climate change and protect natural assets.
While fossil fuels might be exiting the world’s economy – but at a much slower pace than many believe or would like – minerals and metals are in the ascendancy. We need them in our lives and we need them to be produced responsibly. If you live in Africa, where 80% of minerals resources are un-explored, the ‘just transition’ is about dignified jobs and durable industries. Mining can be that. At The Impact Facility we do our best to make that happen through impact investment into community businesses. At TDi we work directly with mining projects to build robust relations and development programmes with local communities. This could be a huge moment for African countries. They have what the world needs, and this time round we should make sure they benefit from it.
This could be a huge moment for African countries. They have what the world needs, and this time round we should make sure they benefit from it.
This is especially true now as we face the effects of generative AI. The great difference between the biggest cloud-based companies today and the capitalists of the past is the distribution of benefits. The businesses that provide the communication platforms that enable our digital posts – including this one – distribute approximately 1% of the revenue to their workers (i.e. the users), while capitalists that actually make things distribute nearer 85%. If we want a more sustainable and equitable world, we need to figure out how to employ people and give folk the chance to be productive. AI can be a force for good, but only if we have our eyes wide open as we take the next steps into the cloud economy.
There is more to say about the past twelve months, but let me finish on what we aim to do in the next twelve.
For TDi, we will be focussing on:
TDi Digital: we are deepening our commitment to democratise corporate sustainability by putting all our tools online and accessible for meeting mounting regulations, both hard and soft. In January 2024 we will be launching the beta version of our Integrated Compliance Assurance Tool, augmented updates of our CAHRA and Responsible Sourcing risk maps, our enhanced due diligence tool ‘RUBEUS’, and finally providing access to our public issues and adverse news database and monitoring service. This will be a one stop shop for all due diligence needs with the aim of making life a lot easier for compliance managers.
TDi Strategy Consulting: While AI is forecast to drive many things, including partially TDi Digital, human knowledge and judgement is still critical when creating corporate sustainability strategies and management systems, for training specialists, and in communications. All this is part of our high-touch, crafted approach to supporting our clients develop a fit-for-purpose roadmap for sustainability while continuing to grow their profits. More and more we are working at the asset and project level from Chile and Peru to Tanzania and the DRC, and across Europe. We will be bolstering our consultancy expertise and growing our capacity.
TDi Audit: TDi specialises in the auditing of highly complex, infrastructure projects in high-risk areas. We enjoy the adventure and are sympathetic about the challenges it takes to run businesses in environments that are very different to those in the EU and North America. As well as the audits, we are focussing our business on helping to run assurance and certifications schemes – from schemes covering solar and wind energy supply chains, to critical battery materials and their manufacturing.
In 2024 we aim to grow our base of 60+ clients and double down on our key sectors:
• Mining and Metals,
• Electronics and Tech,
• Investment/capital markets, and
• Standards setters and regulators.
I wish I could say that 2024 will be a smooth one compared to the last three. I can’t, but I do feel invigorated, determined, and even more dedicated to supporting our clients. It gives me and our whole TDi team much pleasure to do so.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to discuss the support you’re looking for. We’re here to help.
Wishing everyone the very best for 2024.
Dr Assheton Stewart Carter, CEO of TDi Sustainability