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Financial advice with a side of solar

Financial advisers the Stewart Group have taken their B Corp certification further than most by generating their own electricity and distributing it to staff, clients and suppliers.

Tuesday, May 9th 2023, 8:50AM

by Andrea Malcolm

Solar panels cover the roof of the Hastings headquarters generating 35.3 kilowatts of power and meeting business needs two times over, says CEO Nick Stewart. That includes running four company-owned charging stations and two electric vehicles.

“We decided to set up New Zealand’s first family owned community power network. It was a big part of our sustainability journey that we wanted to share with like minded clients, family and friends - supplying them with Hawke's Bay sunshine power, so they too could lower their carbon emissions and  environmental footprint.”

Stewart Group partnered with Our Energy, an online wholesaler platform which matches solar power generators with consumers, to set up Te Rehe Solar Network, named after a Ngai Tahu rangatira who is a tipuna (ancestor) of the Stewart family.

“The power is matched and offset and we're now doing that with 54 members (including 17 other generators) from Auckland to Wellington, who are using our excess power transported over the national grid.”

When there is not enough sunshine, electricity at wholesale spot prices is available from the main grid.

The plan grew out of Stewart Group’s B Corp certification, a process which has encouraged the firm to think in truly creative ways, says Stewart.

“This is the fun part of the B Corp journey. It just makes you smarter and more nimble with what you do and encourages you to go that extra step.”

Stewart says sustainability was the main driver for the solar power generation project and has literally fueled deeper sustainability conversations with clients.

In 2021 parent company Te Rehe Group launched a sustainability roadmap, including the finalisation of a suite of ESG investment portfolios in partnership with global asset manager Dimension Fund Advisors. B Corp certification seemed like a way to document and recognise the work they had done.

To achieve certification, a company must demonstrate high social and environmental performance by achieving an assessment score of 80 or above across five impact areas including governance, workers, community, customers and environment. The certification is reassessed every three years.

This is the fun part of the B Corp journey. It just makes you smarter and more nimble with what you do and encourages you to go that extra step.

Reducing its carbon footprint, an employee shareholder scheme, CEFEX audits for portfolios and portfolio management, and the fact that it is now onto producing its third externally validated greenhouse gas emissions report have been major contributors to the group’s high score for its B Corp certification of 105.4.

Stewart Group investment analyst Dr Adi Drori, who has a PhD in pharmaceutical cannabis, says the biggest environmentally oriented task is the greenhouse gas emission inventory report which is validated by MyImprint.

“We worked five to six months before we submitted the application. B Corp certification was becoming more sought after and waiting lists were quite substantial but you can submit the application once you're somewhat ready, and continue to work on it.”

Drori says the process took around nine months and certification was obtained in November 2022.

“A major challenge is keeping it all tidy as a process; collecting data, organising, documentation. You have to keep refining your processes and policies to meet the B Corp standards. You get a lot of bragging rights when you're a B Corp but you have to make sure you live up to them”

Drori says the company is most advanced in governance, and has the most work to do for customers. “It really depends on the business and how you do business and there are some very specific questions and client management aspects. But overall, we did very well in all five areas; governance, workers, community, environment, and clients.

“It’s easier to score high in this particular area when you have an easily defined product such as a consumer product rather than a service. But B Corp is always refining their questionnaires, and the next generation of the B Corp assessments will be more compatible with service providers.”

As of May 1 there are 101 B Corps organisations in New Zealand. In the finance sector this includes Moneyworks, Kiwibank, The Co-operative Bank, Pathfinder, Sharesies, Cogo and Banger. Certification is done by B Lab and about 76 organisations undergoing the assessment process. The average assessment time is six to 12 months, depending on the complexity of the business, says Aotearoa New Zealand B Lab general manager Qiulae Wong.

Her advice to those who are interested is to get started with the B Impact Assessment digital tool which is free, and allows organisations to measure their impact even if they don’t certify in the short term.

Tags: Stewart Group

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