01 November 2023
Is it possible to transform financial markets to reward organisations for positive impacts on people and planet? Absolutely, explains filmmaker and social entrepreneur Rupert Pearce.
To conclude Ashurst’s 30 For Net Zero 30 podcast series, we’ve saved one of the best for last. Our final special guest is Rupert Pearce, who is seeking to rewire the financial markets to reward organisations for positive impacts on people and planet.
Together with regular host Anna Marie Slot, Rupert reflects on how to drive behavioural change among corporates, governments, and individuals to achieve social and environmental progress. Along the way, they talk about how to harness technology, education, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and more.
Rupert also shares his learnings from working on the first Olympic Ceremony to be co-produced by a group of individuals with learning disabilities. He explains how Rewired.earth is building consensus for sustainable action in financial markets. And he emphasises the need for a shared language for ESG that gives people a voice – and businesses a reason – to change.
Listen back to the complete 30 For Net Zero 30 series – featuring an array of inspiring change makers – by subscribing to ESG Matters @ Ashurst on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
This is the thirtieth episode in our 30 For Net Zero 30 series. In each episode, Ashurst Global Sustainability/ESG Partner Anna-Marie Slot speaks with climate action champions across the globe about real steps to take now towards 2030 goals.
The information provided is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and practice, or to cover all aspects of those referred to. Listeners should take legal advice before applying it to specific issues or transactions.
Hello, and welcome to our latest and indeed our final episode of 30 for Net Zero 30. I'm Anna-Marie Slot, global sustainability and ESG partner here at Ashurst. And we are speaking to 30 change makers around the globe about actions to take now to deliver on 2030 goals. Today, I'm very pleased to be joined by co-founder and CEO of rewired.earth, a non-for-profit coalition that compares what people want businesses and governments to be prioritising, against what they are prioritising based on real decision grade data. Rupert, great to have you on today. And thank you so much for joining me. Maybe you can give us a little bit of background about how you come to be here and how you came to found rewired.earth.
Yeah, absolutely. And it's great to be here. Really excited to be here today. So, been working in the people and planet space. We're trying to think of a catchy tagline for it's not save the planet, but it's actually people who are in danger here and the human race. So, how do we actually save ourselves really? So, I've been working within social and environmental change for the last seven, eight years now. And I started a consultancy. And we worked on projects like the Special Olympic World Games, which was the first Olympic ceremony that was completely co-designed, co-created by a group of young people with learning disabilities and autism. So, we spent over 18 months all over the world working very closely with the US government, the UAE government, UK government, but also and most importantly, individuals on the ground, local charities, local organisations.
And we created the first Olympic ceremony that individuals perform live. They created all of the music, the dance, the art. And it was working on that project that really opened my eyes to, number one, the fact that so many people's voices are never heard. When we talk about individuals with disabilities, if we just look at the UK, only 4.3% of individuals with learning disabilities and autism are in employment, that needs to change. And their voice is very rarely heard. And a very small piece, but with this ceremony performed live to five and a half million people on ESPN, 45,000 people in the stadium, individuals showed the power of being given a voice, and being able to direct and the autonomy to direct their future.
So, that showed me the power of that, and actually, from a purpose and from an individual wellbeing perspective, the importance of that. And as we were working on that project, working on the Special Olympics, I was doing some work with the City of London around sustainability and the Green Finance Institute in terms of how do we communicate this, how do we tell stories to the masses to ultimately create behaviour change? And we were running disability campaigns. So, we worked with CNN and others to create over 1,000 jobs for individuals with own disabilities and autism.
But we started to see a myriad of problems. And this is working with experts from across professional services, across academics, academia, business, civil society. We're all trying to solve these problems in silos. And everyone talks about the need for systemic change and the need to go faster to now, but it's really true that we are all trying to solve things in our own silos. And so, we sat down and interviewed people through lockdown for probably 18 months, individuals from all walks of life. What does sustainability mean to you? How do you want your future to be? What really matters to you?
What do you care about? What's going on in the market right now? And actually, we decided that the quickest way to solve our problems is through the financial markets.
And actually, we need to truly value sustainability and value sustainability for everyone. So, we do need to reward those businesses that are truly making a difference from a sustainability perspective. And that's where rewired.earth was really born with this simple idea that we need the equivalent of a food label for sustainability. We need that simple way for everyone to say, "This is what I care about from a sustainability perspective." And by the way, we can't keep reinventing the wheel. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals endorsed by 193 countries, encompass all of the most important things that we should be focusing on to make a healthier planet and a healthier society.
So, let's use the UNSDGs as that front layer and that food label. And then actually, let's understand, what does everyone care about? What are millions of people all over the world prioritise when it comes to the UNSDGs? Because that's how the markets work. If we've got that clarity of demand, we understand what our customers, what our investors, what our employees, what our citizens really care about, then we've got a business case. We've got a value case for change. And as you start to invest in sustainability, and invest in the things that your stakeholders care about, and demonstrate progress based on real data, and I'm sure we'll get into data, decision grade data aggregated through a supply chain.
If you can actually show that you are truly making a difference, then you'll be rewarded by those same stakeholders, by those customers, by those investors, by those employees. So, we think of it as an idea that's time has come. It's a simple idea, but we need more information in the market, and we need a simpler way to talk about it so that everyone knows what sustainability is and everyone can see quite clearly how does a government, how does a local authority, how does a business do against all of the things that really matter to me? And that's where we've got to with rewired.earth.
That's a fantastic story of how you got there. And really, I think, usually, the next question is the big shift that you've seen in the last 18 months or two years. But you actually have the data from interviewing people about what the shift has been for people around talking about sustainability and talking about all of these different topics. So, I guess, through COVID, did you see people's focus alter from between the beginning and the end, or did you think people were becoming more aware, less aware?
Yeah. Yeah. So, a couple of things that I think is worth saying. So, we've created with some of our partners across the market a simple app which allows us to collect that data. And actually understand at a global level, a local, national and international level, what do people prioritise and what do people care about? And climate action is always one of those top four. If we think about the SDGs, SDG 13, we think people are prioritising. It's one of the top four and it's been consistent since COVID that that is coming up within the top four. But actually, you start to see as the war in Ukraine, peace and strong institutions started to move up and started to be prioritised. You look at COVID health and wellbeing was becoming more and more important to people. So, you do get those macro changes based on what is going on on a global level, but also at a local level.
I think two reflections is, one, climate continues to be critically important and people are recognising the need for that change. And I think research is now starting to come out that suggests people don't just prioritise it, but actually they're willing to pay for it. So, they are starting to move with their pockets in terms of wanting, and there's still huge problems with that, which we again can get into. The second piece is we are interviewing a lot of people from across the business sector, financial services. And obviously, with ISSB, CSRD, all of the reporting standards coming in, it's becoming front of mind because it's now business critical from a regulation perspective that we need to be reporting against this thing.
And actually, when we start going through our supply chains, and whether we call it scope three or what we would like it to be is an aggregation of scope one, what we're getting to is a point where we just don't know. We don't know. And the questions are so complicated that an SME at the bottom of the supply chain is going to find it incredibly difficult to answer those questions. And just one other piece that I think is a really recent change, is we're talking about culture shift. So, every conversation we have with a corporate partner right now is actually how do we have the conversation about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. How do we understand what they are? How do we understand what sustainability is? How do we start having a meaningful conversation to understand what our employees actually want us to be doing?
Because organisations have taken poll surveys in the past and they've done some interviews, but actually, how do we create an app that's truly engaging, that's really educational, that connects people around the world in terms of sustainability? So, how do I meet people in my local area, in other countries that care about the same things as me? And actually, how do we drive collective change through this vehicle? And how do organisations become that conduit? So, how do they enable their employees to have this meaningful conversation? And then not just talk about it, because that's great, we can hear what people care about, but actually, what are you as a board going to do about it? What are you as a government, what are you as a local authority actually going to do based on what those individuals...?
And it'll be a myriad, and it'll be academia, it'll be the latest science, but it'll also be, what do people actually care about? What do they prioritise? And it's simple, but trust is eroded at a level, particularly in the western world, particularly in the UK. Trust is at an all time low. Community breakdown is increasing all of the time. We need vehicles, we need mechanisms to drive that change and bring people together from a sustainability perspective, to really work together to solve these problems, because there's a myriad of different solutions and we need to find ways to knit them together.
Yeah, no, absolutely. And you talked to businesses, and definitely talent and retention is on the top of everybody's list together with sustainability. And they're so interlinked to each other. And the way your management and your board see that talent issue is connected to the perception that the people in your organisation have about your organisation, as well as those outside on things that are critical to them, as you say, like climate change. So, really fascinating to come at it from two different ways. And depending on how, even if you're not putting sustainability at the top of your list as someone who runs a company, you're definitely putting talent on the top of your list because that's how your company actually excels and makes money.
Absolutely, absolutely. And just to give you one real life example, which hopefully brings to life the point of all this, is worked with one large corporate in the UK, rolled out the app. Got amazing feedback, got 90% completion rates in terms of people filling it in. And then we took back the findings to the board and we said, "Look, what do you think is coming up as the number one priority of your staff across the UK? What do you think that they were finding?
I don't know. Wages, maybe fair wages?
No poverty. No poverty.
So, no poverty. So, we took no poverty to the board and said, what are you going to do about it? We've had some recommendations. We've got researchers who make some recommendations around what they should do. They said, "Well, no poverty doesn't really affect us. We have some CSR initiatives, and we work really hard on that and we support some charities." And we said, "Well, wait a minute. Are you paying the living wage? Is that part of your policy?" Quite forward-thinking, the organisation are paying the living wage. Great. Next question. So, what about all of your third parties? From a procurement perspective, are you paying the living wage? Wait a minute, we better go in and have a little look at that. No, they weren't.
Now, the outcome was that over the next two years, they're going to be ensuring all of their third parties do pay the living wage. And by the way, this is a huge supply chain. So, actually, making that shift to ensure that all of your third parties pay the living wage and then communicating that back to your employees who've told you what you care about. And ultimately, communicating that to new starters and new graduates, that's incredibly powerful. And then seeing how that changes over time. So, no poverty might be this year, but what is the focus next year? And then all of the UNSDGs are interconnected.
So, playing that educational information back to your staff to explain that these are all interconnected and this is where we're focusing now, but we've got a clear roadmap for how we're going to address all of these things in the next five to 10 years. And I think it's about having that clear roadmap that you can communicate to your employees and to new starters from a talent perspective.
It's interesting you say that. We had an earlier guest on the podcast series, Esther Pan Sloane, who was actually in the negotiating teams when they were working on the SDGs, because she was originally in government. And so, she was really interesting in talking about how the countries... So, SDG's one of the examples of all the countries at the table. So, going back to your point about the Olympics, having all of the people in the room discussing it, as opposed to a subset that then talks to another subset, to another subset somewhere else. So, that's quite fascinating. So, you've given us one example, actually already of specific action. But in an ideal world, what would be your specific action to really get people moving? And when I say moving, moving from a lot of conversation, and conversation's important, but moving into action, like that analysis of the supply chain.
I think it's about organisations at scale, but also governments. And I think the UK government's got a fantastic opportunity to really respond to that demand signal. Because I think if we could prove the theory of change that actually demand does drive action, that drives change, then we're going to be meeting our mission, but we're also going to be solving much more quickly all of the problems that we face. And just to give you one more example, we're working with a very large pension provider. And we think about make my money matter and the power of your pension. And actually, the money you have is hugely influential and most people don't have any idea where their pension goes.
But actually, starting to say, these are the things I prioritise in terms of the UNSDGs. This is where I would want to have products and services, and ultimately, pension products that meet my needs. So, how do we start designing these? How do we work with the market? And that's not just working with one pension provider. That we are a not-for-profit, because we want to be the market infrastructure that provides that data, working with the ISSB, working with everyone else to ensure that that demand signal is clear enough to drive that change. And so, we've created a behavioural change framework with Sussex University, one of our great partners. And it's based off a lot of the research from Damon Centola at University of Pennsylvania. And that's all about tipping points. And tipping points, not in terms of planetary boundaries, although they're critically important as we all know, but tipping points in terms of social change, because this comes down to behaviour change, ultimately.
Whether that's behaviour change of a corporate, of a government, of an individual, how do we drive that behaviour change? And that's all about reaching the 25% tipping point. So, if there's one thing we can do, it's figure out ways to hit the tipping points for social change around the things we really care about that are going to support people in our planet. How do we in our local community, how do we within our businesses, how do we within our cities reach the 25% of people who really want to drive change to create a better world for everyone? I've got two young children, two young boys. And it's cheesy and lots of people talk about it, but what future do we want for them? I don't want them living in a future where they don't connect. I want them to be able to connect with like-minded people who want to drive change.
And that's the employees that they ultimately work for, but also the society in which we live. Everyone talks about running out of time, but this starts with people coming together and hitting those 25% tipping points. Because once you've reached 25%, then there's mass change potential in terms of influencing the rest of the population. So, how do we ignite that? How do we ensure that there's the right content? Because if we think about the UNSDGs, they're failing predominantly from a comms perspective. A lot of money is being spent on anti-ESG, antis-sustainability, anti-UNSDGs. Huge amount more money is being spent on anti than for. So, we need to really think about that collective message.
How do we ensure people know about the UNSDGs? And then how do we start creating a demand signal around those UNSDGs to drive that change? And that's the epicentre of all the work we're trying to do with partners, is to ensure that people know what they are, to start with, but then they can actually take action based on them because they understand what they prioritise.
Yeah, exactly. So, you've mentioned you have kids. So, what is it from your own personal life, I mean maybe it is just co-founding rewired.earth, but what are your own commitments? How are you looking at your own actions, say in the next 12 months or so?
I was thinking about this earlier, and the commitment has to be we keep doing things top down and we forget bottom up. And that's the whole experience of the Special Olympics. And even with rewired.earth, we focus so hard on engaging business, and big corporate, and government and thinking about the local organisations and individuals who can shape this and can, in the simplest term, make the rewired.earth app better, make it more engaging, make the educational content really sing.
Come up with a new way of saying SDG. It's not engaging, it's an SDG. We got to find a new tagline for SDG.
People don't even know what it is.
Exactly. And when we were at One Young World this week in Belfast and you listen to young leaders all over the world, their number one priority was quality education. And that has never been the result. It's never been the result of any of our releases of the app, and it's because they recognise the need. Education enables and gives you the power for significant change. So, my commitment is, how do we continually open rewired.earth up for scrutiny as a not-for-profit? And we've said in our articles, if we're not serving a purpose, we shouldn't exist. But how do we continually open it up to different organisations, different activists? We are looking at a rollout across Africa early next year to 268 million people. How is the app fit for purpose across Africa?
How are we listening? How are we shaping the app to ensure that it is fit for purpose? To your point, if it's not the UNSDGs in terms of what the front end name is, what is the name? How do we shape that? How do we create that together? Because you need top down and you need regulation, and you need the standards and the framework to get better and better. And when we talk about reporting the supply chain data and how we assure it, and ultimately audit it. So, we've got decision grade equivalent to financial data, which we've got a long way to go. We need that to be coming in. But we also need grassroots, and organisations, and people to create change and be enabled to create change by getting involved in this and saying, "What do they really care about? What do they want to drive?"
So, here's the hard one. So, one actionable takeaway for the listeners, what do you think that would be? I mean, it's interesting, I think the focus on data and creating awareness of the demand signals and using the data to do it is really useful, because that's something that businesses can get their heads around and governments can get their heads around. So, what do you think our listeners, one takeaway for them? You can have two if you want.
Number one is don't be overwhelmed, because everyone's overwhelmed right now. No one knows what to do. No one knows when they go in a supermarket what product they should be buying to be sustainable. They don't know what to do for the best. I could've chosen individual actions that I take in terms of the car that I drive or the food that I eat, which are all things that I'm doing to be more sustainable. But actually, you need to relax and you need to breathe and be actually with yourself. So, don't be overwhelmed.
And number two, trust that your voice does matter and find a way, working with rewired.earth or there's equivalent organisations and not-for-profits, to however small, make sure your voice counts. And if that's just filling in the app with rewired.earth and saying, this is my priority, this is what I care about, this is where I want you to focus, or it's joining a march, find a way to commit to something however small and start the journey. Because behaviour change is all about the small steps, nudging behaviour, do something really small.
All right, small and achievable. Sounds good. Sounds good. Thank you so much, Rupert. Thank you for being on the show. Thank you for all of your insights. Again, if people want to go look at rewired.earth, I'm sure there's some great data there to take a look at as well.
Brilliant. Thank you very much for having me.
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