Andy Morrow is an experienced CFO at Public Digital, and previously at climate change consultancy, SystemIQ. Here, he shares his perspective on the greatest societal challenges we face today, and what businesses can do to address them. This interview was conducted as part of our research inquiry into the role CFOs will play in creating a fairer future.
What societal issues keep you awake at night?
I’m concerned about the anthropogenic strain on the planet. Looking back, even when my parents were in their twenties we knew climate change would only become a bigger problem. Their generation didn’t do anywhere near enough – and the same is true of my generation, we simply haven’t done what we needed to do. Now I’m looking at the world my children will live in and the overwhelming burden of dealing with environmental problems will fall on them. So will the potential austerity that could accompany efforts to make consumption sustainable.
What shapes the way you view sustainability and climate change?
About three years ago I read Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth, which transformed the way I think. The overshoot that it describes really terrifies me. I don’t think people are aware and active enough to address its impacts. These are potentially catastrophic, and could kickstart a chain reaction of tragedies: complete crop failures in certain regions, leading on to mass starvation and mass migrations of people across continents. We need to be thinking about what that looks like, and what we can do to mitigate its impacts. I feel like we’ve just handed this problem on to the next generation when it’s something we should absolutely be doing everything we can to address today.
“We need to be thinking about what climate change will look like and what we can do to mitigate its impacts.”
What can business do to address these issues?
One of the things I loved about SystemIQ’s mission was its recognition that business had a pivotal role to play in addressing the climate crisis. We were trying to prove to businesses that acting in a sustainable way is at least - if not more - profitable than simply carrying on with their old business model.
Both society and business are made up of the building blocks of people. Their goals should be aligned, and the notion that businesses can have goals that are contrary to the needs of society seems sociopathic. We need to recognise that if you have a business that is anti-societal then that’s a problem.
“The notion that businesses can have goals that are contrary to the needs of society seems sociopathic.”
If you could put one challenge to your peers, what would it be?
I would challenge my peers to be totally honest when talking about impact. It’s all too easy to put in an impact statement, for example, “We’ve helped X number of people”, but that’s vague. You need to be specific and measurable and say, ‘This is what we set out to do, and this is what we achieved’. At SystemIQ, I spent a year trying to develop an impact measurement framework, which meant defining how SystemIQ assesses its impact: making sure it was upfront and placed in a global context. This is especially difficult in a consulting environment where the nature of the work makes it hard to demonstrate impact down to a specific number. For instance, you might be helping your client on a sustainability journey they are already on, but helping them get there faster, which makes it difficult to quantify and measure the impact that we have had on that journey.
I realised we could end up with an approach that involved collecting a great amount of data, which would be an industry in itself. That wouldn’t be something we could do whilst staying as a small, agile organisation. Because of this, I wanted to keep it high-level. We focused on broad areas like energy transition, and tried to figure out what SystemIQ’s role would be in contributing to that change, with progress and strategy being reviewed and adjusted biannually. This meant we had a clear sense of what our ‘theory of change’ would be.
At the same time, I realised that as a smaller player, SystemIQ may not be the right player to affect that change. So much of the change hinges on regulation and some of the larger corporates moving first and creating a critical mass that can shift the industry.
“So much of the change hinges on regulation and some of the larger corporates moving first and creating a critical mass that can shift the industry.”
Looking back, I think we achieved what we wanted to in mapping out what we wanted to change, but struggled with getting to grips with the kind of data collection at the scale we were looking at whilst also remaining small and agile.
What is the thing you’re most proud of in your career to date?
Aside from delivery, I’m most proud of the team that I built up at SystemIQ. Not just my own team, but the wider corporate functions team and the impact they had on the organisation’s culture. There’s a huge amount to be said for building teams that are not only well-incentivised and well-functioning but are also happy and whose achievements are properly recognised. I’m proud of the way that we managed to build that up at SystemIQ, and it’s very satisfying to be able to support them when they’re facing challenges and guide them on their development journeys.