Committing to sustainability

Mark McLardie, head of ESG, Westcon-Comstor, talks to Comms Business about how the company is strengthening its environmental ambitions.

The channel has done a lot of work to prioritise environmental, social, and governance (ESG) in recent years, and Westcon-Comstor has been helping to drive that change.

Last year, the company created a new role of head of ESG, with ambitions to strengthen its capabilities in that area, help implement a five-year roadmap to decarbonisation, as well as outlining ways in which Westcon-Comstor can help partners reduce emissions.

Mark McLardie (pictured below) took up that role and has spent the past year spearheading progress within the business. He explained, “I took up that role in March [2022] in line with the start of a new financial year. It’s been exciting, interesting and busy because we were building a sustainability programme from the ground up.”

McLardie said that he joined the company working in operational roles, primarily working on logistics and supply chain projects. That background has been useful in laying the foundations for the distributor’s sustainability goals, particularly because the nature of the business means that understanding the environmental impact of those areas will be fundamental to reaching long-term goals.

He described how Westcon-Comstor created its ESG team. He said, “ESG evolved from an existing team within Westcon, which was known as business compliance. As that name suggests, that team’s primary focus was in ensuring that we were remaining legal and compliant within the markets that we operate.

“There were two individuals who were running that team across the entire business and had responsibility for areas including health and safety, and facilities management as well. There was very little time available to proactively spend on environmental sustainability. That’s what has changed this year through my appointment.”

The supply chain

ESG has come into the spotlight for several reasons, including partners looking for guidance. McLardie explained, “We talk a lot about partner success, and it became apparent that ensuring we had a successful sustainability programme was going to be integral to ensuring that our partners are successful.

“Ultimately, we are part of our partner’s supply chain, and they are looking to us for guidance and information relating to the products and services that we’re providing to them, and the associated sustainability impact.

“Sustainability was moving up the scale in terms of priority and importance for our partners, and that naturally then started shifting up our list.”

The company worked with an external climate strategy consultancy to assess its sustainability impact and direct its strategy.

McLardie explained, “We had a conversation with [the consultancy] and we realised a couple of things. One, we didn’t have the technical expertise within our own business at that time to manage that project. And two, sometimes bringing in external consultancy can be helpful because it’s a fresh pair of eyes.

“They’re looking at what you’re doing within your business from an impartial point of view. They can make an independent assessment of what you’re doing and where you should be going.”

The independent assessment look ten weeks to complete and involved all 10 members of the Westcon-Comstor executive leadership team. This, McLardie explained, gave the company a “good grounding” to then start delivering on the “first steps” of Westcon-Comstor’s ESG strategy.

McLardie said that the company has just entered the first year of its next five-year planning cycle and discussed the need to grow the team.

He commented, “Responsible business is one of the strategic foundations for our five-year strategy and we have a target to achieve 100 per cent of the targets that we’re setting in this area. This is a statement of intent, alongside more traditional financial indicators of business success. We have a revenue growth target, we have a profitability target, but we also have a target around sustainability.

“We recognise this requires additional investment, which is why the team has grown from two to seven individuals across the business over the last nine months.”

Working together

Data is essential in making a difference, as the channel needs to understand the reality of its environmental impact. In the long-term, all stakeholders will need to come together to share knowledge and collectively make a difference.

McLardie explained, “When we’re having conversations with our partners, some of the smaller businesses don’t necessarily have dedicated resources for sustainability. We recognise that it’s another area that we can add value to our partners.

“That could be a case of, for example, if they’re struggling with an element of their carbon footprint, we can give them some guidance based on our experience.

“Collaboration is a clear theme within sustainability. It is much more difficult to be successful in what you’re trying to achieve when you’re working in isolation.”

This interview appeared in our February 2023 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.