Why sustainability is important for businesses - Christian Mayo

You would be hard-pressed to find a more resilient business community than the one we are lucky to have in Yorkshire. We’re well-placed to not only bounce back but thrive in a post-Covid-19 world.

On paper The Company Shop and Biffa come across as odd bedfellows but when you scratch the surface it’s clear this is a shrewd piece of business, says Christian Mayo.
On paper The Company Shop and Biffa come across as odd bedfellows but when you scratch the surface it’s clear this is a shrewd piece of business, says Christian Mayo.

But this won’t be a return to business as usual. There’s pressure on businesses from consumers, customers, shareholders and government to ensure that the fightback isn’t just strong, but sustainable too.

We’re already seeing how this renewed focus on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria is driving the deal agenda across the region.

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Take Biffa’s recent acquisition of Company Shop, for example. While on paper they might come across as odd bedfellows, when you scratch the surface it’s clear this is a shrewd piece of business.

By tapping into Company Shop’s expertise in redistributing surplus food and household products, Biffa will be able to provide a circular economy proposition to customers. In turn this diversifies its product offering and creates a more sustainable proposition for stakeholders and customers alike.

It’s a great example of the ESG agenda taking centre stage in a business’ mergers and acquisitions strategy.

But not everyone is at the same stage of the journey. You can split the sustainability drive into three subcategories.

First comes the fence-sitters. These are businesses who remain neutral or uncommitted to sustainability in general and forgo sustainability measurements during deal making.

Secondly, there’s the dabblers, or those who are “ticking a box” by just focusing on process compliance and governance.

Finally there’s the advocates. This is the growing group of businesses seeking sustainability patterns in their transactions and treating sustainability as a significant factor in their decision-making – in some cases above and beyond financials. We can sort Biffa into this category.

That’s not to say there aren’t challenges that face businesses, even when they are aware of the need to be more sustainable. The pandemic has dented some efforts in the short term, as companies battle to expand margins and control costs amid uncertainty around the future of consumer spending. Yet in the long term, companies are expected to continue investing in sustainability across procurement, production, processing and packaging.

ESG also appears to have a direct impact on Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortisation (EBITDA). KPMG recently analysed M&A transactions in consumer sub-sectors to understand ESG deals’ financial metrics and value drivers. It observed a 14.4 pc higher average earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) multiple of 23.3x for sustainability-driven acquisitions.

Many remain fence-sitters and dabblers. But, knowing the entrepreneurial spirit in Yorkshire’s business community, I expect we’ll see many firms becoming ESG advocates before long – keeping one eye on the long-term to include sustainability as core for M&A to enhance value in the portfolio and an attractive return when the owner decides to exit.

Christian Mayo is head of the corporate finance team at KPMG in Yorkshire


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