Chris Nunn’s life-long passion for sustainability was sparked at the young age of 16 when he became familiar with the Earth Summit for the first time. Fast-forward to uni days, and the former geography student decided to synergise his passion for environment with his affinity for law, and become an environmental lawyer. Today, he’s a renowned sustainability expert, with over 20 years of experience in persuading people to affect change in the powerful world of business.

As someone who has been walking the sustainability path since early teens, and has headed up corporate sustainability efforts at organisations like AMP Capital Real Estate, Environmental Defenders Office in Sydney and Atkins in London – Chris is in a unique position to talk about sustainability. “The definition of sustainability in Australia has really evolved over my career,” Chris explains. “In the world of buildings, it started as ESD – ecologically sustainable design – then it became sustainability, which was a bit broader, and then it became ESG, which stands for environmental, social and governance. And that is broader again.”

How has this shift affected the corporate world – and are there differences in how this notion is perceived between the general population, architecture and design as a whole, and the world of business? “Obviously, businesses exist to make money,” Chris starts. “So as ESG professionals working within companies like the real estate investment managers, we have to demonstrate how the sustainability issues we're recommending contribute to reducing costs, improving returns and lowering risk. Whereas in civil society, which is ultimately what drives expectations for government action, it's more about the underlying science and the actual sustainability issues. Ultimately, they're the true drivers for sustainability action, both within government and within corporations.”

Questions around what our planet can actually support, and what society should look like if all human activity was restorative and regenerative – rather than extractive and depleting of the environment – are crucial in those considerations.

“The underlying community sentiment and science, and that pressure from civil and scientific communities, reflected through advocacy by green groups, is the source and motivation for action on ESG issues,” Chris says. “And as sustainability professionals, we take that motivation into the corporate context, to find areas where business and community interests align, and where the company can still make money, save costs and reduce risks, while moving forward on sustainability. So our job is to continually push internally to increase action by the company to find those areas of opportunity.”

Chris adds that this divergence between the broader view of sustainability and the corporate one is that the broader one is more ambitious, and then the government and corporate view is a subset of that. So how does sustainability show up in the world of business?

“Taking account of climate change is already part of directors duties under the corporations law in Australia,” Chris explains. “Similarly, ASIC has started aggressively prosecuting companies for greenwashing, making false or misleading environmental sustainability related claims. And I think we will see more and more mandatory ESG disclosure requirements from the government and continued pressure from investors, shareholders and the community stakeholders for companies to transparently disclose their ESG performance both – good and bad.”

“This push for verifiable ESG data and disclosure will not stop,” he adds. “And it will be financial grade, it will be part of what's called Integrated Reporting, where companies are reporting their core financial statements in the same financial report as they disclose their environmental positive and negative liabilities and opportunities.”

He says that it’s already something we’re seeing with the TCFD - the Task Force for Climate-Related Financial Disclosure – and that the next big corporate standard pushing companies to disclose their biodiversity impacts will be the Task Force on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures.

“That will lead to greater transparency and more ability for regulators and the community to hold companies to account for their actions and claims and it will require them to stick to the ambitious targets that they set themselves like zero carbon by 2030,” Chris sums up.

To find out about Chris’ predictions on what the world is going to look like by 2030, and learn more about sustainability in the corporate world, listen to the full episode here.