Interview with Ivona Balint-Kowalczyk, founder of Sustainao - Promising Progress In Corporate Sustainability

This article was featured in FOCUS 74's Entrepreneur Spotlight

Ivona Balint-Kowalczyk, founder of Sustainao, discuss why companies should pay attention to their sustainability performance. 

As a consultant who helps businesses in their sustainability journey, what trends are you seeing at the present time? 

Sustainability has become more strategic over the years, with an increasing number of provisions, standards and initiatives for companies to address. Covid-19 has highlighted weaknesses and strengths in companies’ sustainability practices, from governance to social and environmental factors. For some companies, the focus on sustainability might have dropped this year, but their stakeholders’ expectations regarding sustainability are increasing.  

As ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investing is accelerating, there is a growing demand for transparent, reliable and comparable data. The problem is that there is no common international standard to address ESG information. There are three main sustainability reporting frameworks: GRI Standards, the Integrated Reporting Framework and SASB Standards. In 2020, the three entities managing these frameworks announced their intent to work together towards a comprehensive reporting system. Later, GRI and IIRC announced their intent to merge into a unified organisation, the Value Reporting Foundation. These are major advancements towards simplifying the corporate reporting landscape.  

Among the different ESG factors, climate change is one of the most concerning issues. The decrease in CO2 emissions due to Covid-19 lockdown is just ‘a tiny blip’ compared to the carbon emission reduction we should achieve till 2050 to reach the 1.5°C climate target. As companies have to manage their climate change risks and opportunities, they can rely on different existing frameworks to guide them such as CDP, CDSB and TCFD.  


Can you tell us more about your consulting approach?  

At Sustainao, we see sustainability as a continuous journey. There are a multitude of environmental, social and government factors to address, as well as provisions, initiatives, and frameworks which are in perpetual evolution. Within this context, corporate sustainability might feel like a complicated and endless maze. Sustainao helps its clients ease the process and focus on the most impactful aspects to create value in the short, medium and long term. 

We aim to guide companies in a continuous improvement process by focusing on: 1) building an impactful sustainability strategy, 2) ensuring a successful deployment, 3) developing sustainability reports, 4) answering non-financial rating agencies and clients’ sustainability questionnaires, and 5) conducting gap assessments and mock audits to identify improvement actions for the whole sustainability process (steps 1 to 4). 


Can you share some tips on how to improve sustainability performance? 

Among the five steps - strategy, deployment, reporting, recognition and assessment - the deployment phase is one of the most challenging ones and plays an essential role in improving performance.  

Companies put a lot of effort into the strategy, reporting and sometimes recognition steps, but all these are dependent on the efficiency of the deployment phase. For example, if there are not enough resources at the operational level to implement the action plan and report reliable data, it will be hard to measure the performance and improve it.  

Therefore, it is important to focus on embedding sustainability within the company, such as raising awareness about the company’s sustainability goals, providing adequate training, and setting sustainability performance incentives. 

Another important aspect is having reliable data. Companies spend a huge amount of time collecting data, which gives little time to focus on analysing it and identifying improvement actions. This can be improved by building reporting procedures with clear KPIs definitions and implementing efficient tools to collect and verify the data.  






Interview with Ivona Balint-Kowalczyk, founder of Sustainao, for FOCUS #74. To read more articles from this issue, download your digital copy here




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