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【2021 Meet Taipei】 Keynote speakers dissect ESG

Taiwan News 2021/11/26

During the 2021 Meet Taipei Startup Festival on Saturday (Nov. 20), a series of “Transforming from Good” keynote speeches saw business leaders from various sectors share insights on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing.

Minister without Portfolio Audrey Tang (唐鳳) opened the series with a pre-recorded speech, emphasizing how the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of social innovation and the need for digitization. In addition to finding efficient solutions to problems, businesses nowadays must build resilience against any unexpected situations, she said.

Audrey Tang opens series of keynote speeches via pre-recorded video.

Managing Director of KPMG Sustainability Consulting Niven Huang (黃正忠), who also serves as the regional leader of KPMG Sustainability Services in the Asia Pacific, spoke about new business opportunities for start-ups and large corporations that work together in a push for ESG.

According to Huang, after pitting the environment, society, and even the economy against themselves in the past several decades, the world still never stopped to rethink its ways. However, in 2020, when the global COVID outbreak forced the world to a halt, it also brought about a new reality in which businesses must start addressing environmental and social issues in order to profit, as limitations on natural resources and social stability would not allow otherwise.

Now, a new form of capitalism — stakeholder capitalism — demands that production value must be shared with all parties in the capital chain. Huang used Taiwan as an example, presenting a vicious cycle in which adolescents are angry about reality, young people are helpless to change reality, and the elderly are unable to afford reality.

Huang said businesses must reconsider past and current methods and ideas, spanning business models, investment choices, products, technology, and for-profit entities. Social innovation comes from turning environmental and social crises into business opportunities, and every person’s failure to change is part of the problem — but every person’s change is also part of the solution.

Tsao asks audience how many have seen image of sea turtle with straw up its nose.

Formosa Climate Smart Service (FCS) Founder Tsao Jung-hsuan (曹榮軒) began his keynote presentation with a poll, asking the audience whether they had seen the viral image of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nose. Then, he asked those who had and who had still used single-use plastic straws in the past two months to put them down, leaving only one or two hands still in the air.

The exact same phenomenon applies to businesses, said Tsao, whose company helps entities incorporate ESG and climate-related risk management into corporate governance. It is hard for a person to drastically change one’s habits, let alone a business, he added.

ESG is about introducing socially innovative practices that are founded on existing business models and practices, upon which entities already in operation rely. Tsao added that without any conception of ESG, businesses’ targets of investment remain on the two-dimensional plane that factors in only profit and risk; sustainability adds a third dimension to the equation.

Cheng Chih-kai analyzes "millennial mindsets."

B Current Impact Investment Chair Cheng Chih-kai (鄭志凱) focused on the qualities of start-up companies with social influence potential and “ESG genes.” ESG should not be simply a business strategy but also “an underlying business ethic,” he said.

Cheng cited survey results showing that 68% of millennials want to make a positive difference, 81% say a business needs to have a genuine purpose, and 78% like their employers to have values that match their own. Aside from assessing start-ups on their social influence potential as well as their governance fairness and transparency, B Current Impact Investment also helps start-ups build ESG qualities.

NextDrive Founder and CEO Yan Jer-yuan (顏哲淵) shared insights about power optimization through the Internet of Things and the potential it holds. As the world prepares to transition into an electric vehicle-based society, it must address the huge burden EVs will bring upon existing power grids.

Electric power generation will be reshaped completely in the future, according to Yan, and it will migrate to communities and households. If all the future’s new buildings come with power-generating capacities, cities will build resilience and avoid power outage-related crises.

Additionally, with automated electricity distribution and optimization controlled through artificial intelligence, power usage will become much more efficient and thus lower carbon emissions.

Yan visualizes new ecosystem for power generation.

Teach For Taiwan Sustainability Officer Doing Du (杜瀛) reviewed ESG from an educational standpoint, analyzing how the local COVID outbreak in Taiwan accentuated education inequality.

In May 2021, when the Central Epidemic Command Center suspended classes across Taiwan, the announcement created a chain of problems, Du said. Children did not have tablets for virtual lessons; parents did not have experience in home-based schooling; teachers did not have time to prepare; society did not have supporting measures to facilitate such a lifestyle.

In rural areas, these problems were magnified, according to Du. Children did not have an appropriate learning environment; parents did not have jobs; teachers did not have spare energy; society did not have the full picture.

Taiwan is fortunate in that classes were not suspended for long. However, Du reminded everyone that the impact COVID had on education is not a sprint that ends after crossing the finish line. Instead, it's a marathon that has just begun.

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