Diamond company De Beers Group faces what Katie Fergusson, its SVP of Sustainable Impact, calls “a unique responsibility and a unique opportunity” to ensure it creates a positive, sustainable impact for the people and places where the company’s diamonds are discovered. De Beers Group’s operations span the diamond value chain – from exploration and diamond recovery through to rough diamond sales and retail, the company has a global footprint. “We are involved right from the discovery of diamonds, throughout their journey to becoming beautiful pieces of jewellery,” says Fergusson. “Every day we see first-hand just how precious natural diamonds are, not only for the people who wear them, but for all those whose lives they touch along their way to the consumer.”
Building on past efforts
De Beers Group’s sustainability framework, Building Forever, builds on decades of work and commitments, including the company’s commitment to being a leader in driving ethical practices across the diamond industry. De Beers Group was a founding member of the ground-breaking Kimberley Process in 2003, a UN-backed, tripartite agreement between governments, civil society and industry to address the issue of conflict diamonds. In 2005, the company launched its own proprietary standards – the Best Practice Principles (BPPs) – with the aim of driving higher auditable standards across its supply chain, and across a wider range of topics. The BPPs are an industry-leading set of criteria covering environmental, social, and business ethics and which apply not only to De Beers Group’s own business, but also those of its rough diamond customers and their suppliers.
The company formally launched its Building Forever framework in 2020, announcing 12 ambitious goals to achieve by 2030 across four pillars: leading ethical practices, partnering for thriving communities, protecting the natural world, and accelerating equal opportunities. “Many of these goals will require a step change in our approach,” says Fergusson. “To build forever is to challenge ourselves to do better; to scale, innovate and accelerate our work and our impact. Becoming carbon neutral, for example, will require significant changes to the way we work – minimising our emissions, alongside deploying new technologies and innovation, as well as investing in cutting edge research.”
Are we doing “enough”?
With such ambitious commitments, the team leading the implementation of Building Forever wanted to ensure that the strategy addressed the right issues with long-term targets that were as ambitious as possible. Building Forever was developed in consultation with many different stakeholders and aligns with the national development plans of De Beers Group’s partner countries, leaving the team confident that the Building Forever framework aligned with the expectations and needs of many of its stakeholders, as well as the SDGs. However, the team knew they needed to go further. “What we had developed through engagement and consultation with our partners and stakeholders was critically important, but we also wanted to ensure that our approach, goals, and targets were aligned with what the science tells us is needed to protect our planet and support people to thrive,” Fergusson said.
De Beers Group was already part of Future-Fit’s Development Council, so the company adopted the Future-Fit Business Benchmark as a framework to help it test its Building Forever approach and ensure that it continued to focus on the most critical areas and enablers. The Benchmark covers a holistic range of environmental, social and governance topics applicable to businesses, outlining what any company needs to do to become truly sustainable by describing the steps companies can take to provide the people they serve and rely on with the minimum they need, while respecting the limits of what nature can provide. It also provides actionable guidance to help eliminate any negative impacts in the long term. Fergusson says: “Future-Fit’s Benchmark stood out to us as a way of taking a step beyond stakeholder engagement, to really test the robustness of our Building Forever approach, using a leading methodology that adopts a truly science-based approach. In doing so we sought recommendations as to how to evolve and further strengthen our approach going forward.”
Stress-testing an existing sustainability strategy
The process of reviewing the Building Forever approach was thorough: the team connected with the leads for each Building Forever Goal to talk through the relevant parts of the Future-Fit Business Benchmark and, using the Future-Fit Health Check framing, compared the data being tracked and targets being pursued within each topic.
Where good alignment was found, the Building Forever team were able to reinforce their plans. Areas with gaps sparked conversations about whether these differences made sense, resulting in valuable recommendations. Going forward, De Beers Group plans to incorporate the review’s recommendations and start collecting data and reporting against both the Future-Fit Break-Even Goals and the Positive Pursuits, to further strengthen its measurement and reporting approach.
Understanding Break-Even and Positive Pursuits
In particular, the team at De Beers Group found the Future-Fit approach a useful exercise to review how the company was managing its impacts, as well as to help it credibly communicate its efforts externally.
Fergusson highlights: “A key takeaway was the need to clearly differentiate between our goals which act to minimise negative impact from our operations (i.e. Future-Fit’s Break-Even Goals) and those ‘Positive Pursuits’ that go above and beyond our operations, to help accelerate progress towards the SDGs. Just one example was around our 2030 goal to become carbon neutral. Whilst this is an ambitious stretch goal that we are focused on accelerating our work towards, the Benchmark brought greater clarity around how we could reposition our efforts to also act as an enabler for others, for example, by exploring options to provide clean energy to the communities around our operations as part of our renewable energy strategy towards becoming carbon neutral.”
“There is always more to learn and improve”
“Regardless of having a mature sustainability approach, there is always more to learn and improve, with new ways to consider the focus and strengthen the approach,” reflects Fergusson. “In addition to your materiality process and stakeholder engagement, the value of assessing against a science-based robust and transparent benchmark helps ensure you are truly minimising your negative impacts and maximising your positive impact.”
“Reviewing Building Forever against Future-Fit’s benchmark helped bring greater robustness to our approach and enabled us to prioritise our efforts in the areas that are really going to enable the changes that are needed.”
Future-Fit’s Impact Valuation Lead, Kevin Horgan, adds: “The Building Forever leadership team and De Beers Group management have done a good job of not settling for progress already made, and in helping the organisation continue to advance its understanding of the part it can play in a sustainable future.”
Could the Benchmark help your company?
Adopting a management framework like the Business Benchmark always requires commitment and readiness for change from a company. For organisations that either don’t have an existing ESG strategy or are looking to do a refresh of their existing programs, the Business Benchmark can save time and effort by presenting a ready-made solution. For others that already have a wide range of projects in different stages of implementation, the Benchmark can help ensure that there are no gaps in critical areas and that targets are set in line with key thresholds, preventing the feeling of having to ‘move the goalposts’ in the future after working hard to achieve them.