ESG Strategy and Leadership: An Irish Perspective

Edna Twumwaa Frimpong

ESG Strategy and Leadership: An Irish Perspective

ESG Strategy and Leadership: An Irish Perspective

Listen to Episode 75 on Apple Podcasts

Guest: Maura Quinn, Chief Executive Officer, Institute of Directors, Ireland

Hosts: Dottie Schindlinger, Executive Director of the Diligent Institute, and Meghan Day, Senior Director of Board Member Experience for Diligent Corporation


In this episode of The Corporate Director Podcast, Maura Quinn, Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Directors in Ireland (IoD), discusses the state of ESG integration in Irish boardrooms based on recent research conducted in partnership with the Diligent Institute.

In This Episode:

  1. The Institute of Directors in Ireland: Quinn discusses the partnership between the Institute and the IoD and the impetus for the research report.
  2. ESG Strategy and Leadership in Irish Companies: Quinn highlights some key findings from the joint report.
  3. Ireland and ESG – Predictions and Advice: Quinn gives her opinion on what could be done to move the needle on ESG in Irish boardrooms.  

The Institute of Directors in Ireland

Quinn gives some background on how the collaboration with the Diligent Institute came about: “We’re really pleased with the collaboration with Diligent Institute on this report. We were connected to the Institute by a few of my colleagues in Canada and the US who were part of an advisory panel for Diligent. So, there is a connection there already internationally, and it seemed to be a natural fit for both of us.”

Quinn and the Institute team were keen to know more about how boardrooms were managing ESG in different parts of the world: “We’re all trying to get a handle on where ESG is in the boardroom, and where it was in terms of boards’ agendas here in Ireland particularly. We certainly felt that Diligent, in addition to having a newfound presence here in Ireland, also had an international perspective. From our perspective, we wanted to see how Irish companies were comparing to their peers in this regard.”

Diligent exemplifies all that is good about corporate governance and is an excellent tool for boards of directors.” - Maura Quinn, CEO, Institute of Directors, Ireland


ESG Strategy and Leadership in Irish Companies

In the Institute and IoD report, results uncovered a likely gap between the level of ESG integration on Irish companies versus those in the rest of the EU. Quinn shares her thoughts on Ireland’s ESG journey: “In Ireland, the focus has mainly intensified due to the pandemic. Since then, we’ve seen a really big increase in terms of it becoming a part of the board’s agenda in Ireland. I’m not just talking about the listed boards, because obviously for them, there are very real demands coming from investors and advisors, and regulatory demands in this area. I think we’re beginning to see across the board, literally, private companies also focusing on ESG.”

She also cites COP26 as a reason why she believes that Irish companies will improve on ESG in the boardroom: “The focus of COP26 was this huge debate and exposure around key ESG themes, particularly on global sustainability. That was a big driver of action, and it will continue to be.”

Quinn continues: “In Ireland in particular, all of the historical norms that came along with leading a company were mostly focused on the bottom line. What we’re seeing now is a lot of focus on the environment, and not too much focus on the social piece, although we are seeing some small movement on diversity and inclusion. Other than that, I think we really need to bring this together. I think there’s going to be a huge challenge for boards and directors to really understand what true integration means.”

Quinn explains why Irish companies may lag their peers in Europe: “First of all, we have a relatively small number of public companies here, and they have been the leaders in this space. For a lot of companies, private companies, not-for-profit, even the state companies, we haven’t seen the same focus from them. It’s been different for different companies, and some have performed better than others.”

Quinn continues: “The business environment has fundamentally changed: Investors are really looking into ESG and demanding action. When you think about stakeholders, employees are also demanding this. They want a good place to work, and to be properly and fairly remunerated. We want to see our employers and our businesses do good in the world. That’s another avenue where we’re seeing fundamental change.”

Pull quote: Now, we are talking about ESG in its true sense. If you do governance well, then the E (environment) and the S (social) pieces will follow - Maura Quinn, CEO Institute of Directors, Ireland

Ireland and ESG – Predictions and Advice

Quinn gives her prediction on future ESG integration: “I’d be very surprised if we don’t see large increases in the percentage of companies that have ESG on their agenda. Think about all of the world and how it has changed, particularly during the pandemic, in terms of people working at home and potentially now, as we return to the office and the workplace and the hybrid models. I think people’s demands of working is going to change hugely.”

Maura shares her opinion on how Boards can improve their ESG integration: “I think that we all recognize, in terms of digital transformation that there are a whole range of skills, expertise and insights that we’re going to require even more knowledge about. If you look at cybersecurity, historically that was not something that boards even considered. Now, most boards would have it on top of their agenda as a potential huge risk. I think we’re going to see boards transforming themselves in a similar manner when it comes to ESG.”

Also in this episode…

Speaking on how boards are likely to change in future, Quinn touches on diversity as a very important element: “Gender diversity is obviously very important, but I think we need to see diversity and inclusion in a way that’s much broader. I think we’re also seeing the changing nature of the skillset and expertise that has been required around the table and that brings great diversity in terms of discussions around the table.”

Resources in this episode: