Sustainability is everyone’s challenge, and to forever be guessing who is responsible for reducing emissions, cutting waste, and building a more inclusive society will hinder progress in these areas. To avoid speculation, we turn to the management experts that take on the sustainability challenge for their organisations, their clients, in the interest of everyone.
Consistent readers of Sustainability Magazine will know that EY is intrinsically invested in sustainability, which is fast becoming a key component of its service—sharing knowledge around environmental, social and governance (ESG), sustainability reports, and managing an increasingly diverse workforce.
At the forefront of this is Amy Brachio, the Global Vice Chair of Sustainability at EY, who shares not only a personal passion for this, but is also blessed with supporting global business in shaping their operations for the future. In this Q&A with Sustainability Magazine, Brachio explains responsibilities and where they lie within organisations, but also how boards can be more receptive and encouraging towards climate action and social impact.
Tell us about your role at EY and some of your engagements as Global Vice Chair
I built a long career at EY, having joined as an intern. Over time, I have progressed through a wide range of sectors and roles, all united by a theme of responsible business, and a focus on purpose-driven impact.
Day to day, my work involves three main areas: managing EY’s own sustainability commitments; supporting the business in driving sustainability-led value and impact in our client work; and engaging our people including in opportunities to upskill and embed sustainability in everything we do.
The impact we have with our clients is crucial in the wider transition. We support clients in their sustainability journeys, helping them to achieve their goals by understanding the impact of their operations and outlook with the tools and resources we have available. Having previously engaged in business consulting, I am able to explore how organisations can undergo the functional changes required to become more sustainable and resilient.
For me, sustainability is core to our employer value proposition and our ability to attract and retain talent in a competitive market, including our success in emphasising the importance of diversity and inclusivity on long-term planning and effectiveness.
What’s your view on sustainability? How does this impact your personal life as well as your career?
Sustainability, to me, is a delicate balance of individual action and collective responsibility. It extends beyond personal choices, requiring us to consider the whole ecosystem and all interdependencies we work within. We all need to act as individuals to make change possible, and consider how we can turn intentions into tangible actions—whether that’s travel, our energy, or shopping habits. At a much larger scale, business transformation will be critical, bringing people with you—inside and outside of the organisation. It challenges traditional ideas of how, in the past, one business could act alone to compete and lead.
Now, we need many more businesses to act for anyone to succeed. I’ve already seen how, over time, sustainability is increasingly influencing and informing decisions at work; not just what we do, but how we innovate and rethink approaches, including in skills and the application of technology.
The companies that you’ve worked with, are they on track to meet global sustainability targets?
Many companies I've worked with are committed to global sustainability targets, but are also facing difficult macroeconomic headwinds and challenges in turning this ambition into action. Even those who set ambitious targets are extending them. According to the recent EY Sustainable Value Study, the median target year for delivering on climate commitments has shifted from 2036 to 2050 in just 12 months. Despite these obstacles, it's crucial for companies to intensify their transition planning. Evidence shows that those who do prioritise their sustainability commitments derive significant long term value—both commercial and societal.
Many believe in a top-down approach to sustainability, would you agree?
While not every organisation needs a dedicated Chief Sustainability Officer, leadership from the C-suite is critical to setting the tone and direction. It creates a collective responsibility and accountability for sustainability initiatives, possessing both understanding and executive-level influence to drive impactful results. In my experience, a holistic, equal responsibility model at board level – where each function has a clear understanding of their role and contribution, has a better chance of achieving tangible results encouraging all parts of an organisation to foster sustainable behaviours, encouraging both group and personal commitment which will be more likely to succeed in driving real change.
What role do boards play in companies meeting sustainability goals?
The bar has risen for ambition, accountability and action, and with it, the need for companies to respond with credible plans, evidenced action and progress. Effective collaboration between CSOs and the board is essential, requiring close interaction to align Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals with the organisation's strategic direction. The CSO role has the potential for identifying how organisations gain competitive advantage by putting ESG at the heart of value creation. This type of alignment means Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) are empowered by CEOs and boards to be transformative across the business. It signifies a clear mandate, meaningful influence, and involvement in corporate strategy, and enables the CSO to hold the C-Suite accountable for sustainability progress.
Boards can and must actively support CSOs in achieving targets at an appropriate pace, integrating them into the business as usual whether it’s through investment, acquisitions, innovation, policy and stakeholder engagement. The right governance structures are essential to reinforce integration, progress and organisational engagement. Bringing wider perspectives from dedicated committees and creating strategic connections can demonstrate to employees and stakeholders the purpose, plan, and progress of commitments.
How can boards get their companies moving in the direction of sustainability, today?
Boards play a central role in fostering strategic alignment, accountability, and innovation in sustainability efforts. Boards can propel their companies towards sustainability by establishing a robust framework, fostering collaboration with the CSO, and supporting the alignment of operational strategies with their goals. This is not about initiatives—this is a whole business transformation aligned with long term market goals. A close working relationship between the CSO, finance function, and audit committee ensures compliance with emerging ESG standards and collaboration with the CFO is crucial for creating a business case and programmes for a sustainable operational footprint.
To address the green skills gap, upskilling across all career levels is essential. Leveraging technology and data is vital for driving innovation, reducing resource usage, and enhancing sustainability performance. In this way, collaboration between the CSO and CIO is key for scaling technology, embedding behaviour change and the data that underpins transformation and reporting.
What are the most challenging areas for boards?
Boards are having to navigate through an unprecedented era of global change and disruption. These include geopolitical events characterised by increased nationalism, changing regulatory environments; supply chain disruption to changes in both consumer and workforce demands and expectations and the proliferation of new generative technologies.
Looking inwards traditional business models may resist the necessary transformations for sustainability so boards must manage and foster a culture open to change however balancing the expectations of diverse stakeholders, including investors, customers, and employees, can be challenging. They must effectively communicate their sustainability efforts to meet these expectations but overcoming these challenges demands a strategic and integrated approach, with boards actively engaging in the sustainability agenda and aligning it with the overall business strategy.
What influence does EY have on board sustainability mindset and action?
At EY we recognise that the greatest impact we can have on board sustainability mindset and action is through its commitment to sustainability leadership. EY's extensive experience, having delivered sustainability solutions to over 3,000 clients, showcases its dedication. By appointing a Vice-Chair, Sustainability and CSO, the first among the Big Four, EY looks to be a leader in global sustainability efforts, evident in achieving carbon neutrality and aiming for carbon negativity.
EY's sustainability and ESG strategy teams offer tailored support, addressing diverse challenges like decarbonisation, energy transition, and sustainable sourcing. The multidisciplinary approach, spanning 120 countries, helps businesses realise unique sustainability ambitions, emphasising real-world pathways for a better future and EY's proactive initiatives set a benchmark, inspiring boards to prioritise sustainability for enduring value creation.
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“The vision behind the customer centric Supply Chain (SC) transformation programme, emphasised the potential for supply chains to contribute to the top line, in addition to the traditional bottom line.”