In my leadership world, we talk about acts of leaderships. Those courageous acts coming from a noticing and a felt knowing about what is missing. And stepping into what needs to be done.
In a little corner of the internet, B.Lorraine Smith has taken a grand act of leadership. And is materially changing the world.
The world of sustainability reporting. The world of ESG (environmental social governance).
I am not from this world. I have done my share of reports as a strategic policy analyst. And have felt compelled to comment on public reports, such as here and here. But when I was Programme Director for Common Purpose, I remember recruiting Paul Dickinson on the Brighton and Hove programme. He would share his story about sitting in his flat, writing to FTSE500 company shareholders asking them to disclose their carbon emissions. That was the birthing of CDP (then Carbon Disclosure Project) and his leadership in climate, including co-hosting the Outrage and Optimism podcast.
20 years later, I witness B.Lorraine Smith taking company disclosure and reporting to a new level. With demand for materiality analyses on the rise, she is transforming why, what and how company disclosure can contribute to industrial healing. Asking shareholders and stakeholders of the industrial world to take a reality based perspective, orientated towards serving life.
From acute observation and deep self-reflection, a soul-filled purpose and a delft switch of a vowel, Lorraine is leading a fundamental rethink of how these reports are done. Bringing the reality into materiality. Matereality.
Buckle in industry leaders and investors. It is time to get real.
Who is B.Lorraine Smith?
Our matereal girl is “an independent researcher, writer, speaker, thinker, feeler, and guide on the path towards industrial healing”. A self claimed corporate mischief. A recovering ESG adviser. Fostering the shift to an economy that works in service of life.
Lorraine has been a mid-wife for sustainability. As she said on Dr. Matthew Goodman’s, podcast, “she helped it grow up”, through years of experience as a corporate sustainability and ESG consultant across multiple industries worldwide. She knows her stuff.
And she is my first twitter friend in fact. I came across her deep thoughts, quick wit and creativity through following the work of her colleague and friend ‘triple bottom line’ pioneer John Elkington and Volans. Like many, I appreciate how she articulates what is and isn’t working, and what healing we are capable of and what life-affirming futures are possible. An embracer of paradox, she teaches us how to hold diverse perspectives and unite polarity with diamond cut awareness and lion-heart curiosity and compassion.
This is someone who puts her money where her mouth is. She does not ask anyone to do what she isn’t prepared to do herself. This is a person who went from an amateur runner to doing 5 ultramarathons back to back to explore her own potential. An independent woman who stepped back from the possibility of cashing in on the growing demand for sustainability and ESG consultants to reflect deeply on her contribution to the problem. A refreshing voice documenting her journey and work in the public square. As Manda Scott on her Accidental Gods podcast praised about Lorraine’s writing on Medium, “she is one of the sparkiest, most emotionally literate writers I have come across in a long time”.
And being on my own #earthconversepodcast as a guest, I see her also as a bridge, a source finder, kaleidoscope viewer, signal listener, gap filler, fluff finder and idea sharer amongst other things. On the episode, we explored the metaphor and art of cloth; weaving, knitting and in particular spinning in systemic change. There she talked of how spinning turns ‘fluff’ into something with integrity that is ‘ready to contribute to a structure’.
And with her matereality approach, it seems she turns the fluff of company disclosure into something that is ready to contribute to a structure of industrial healing.
Lorraine’s external matereality journey comes from an inner journey of coming face to face with her own reality. After years of “being in the trenches of ESG” and “disillusioned that all those report have created no material shift, in fact may have either done nothing to contribution to thriving human society within a healthy global biosphere, in fact made it worse”.
And she said elaborated on Matthew’s podcast, companies may have got better gathering and organising information, and possibly have more initiatives and partnerships but “the business model remains the same”. The growth paradigm stays the same. She gives an example of TD bank, one of the companies she has tested her matereality process with. As she says, they make the ‘right noises’ on the outside but look at their annual report a decade apart. And you see how they have doubled their financing of fossil fuels and tripled them for mining.
On her own initiative and self-funded (donations welcome), she has taken on the giants. Working with their publicly available company disclosures to assess how they are serving life. The first was on Alphabet (Google), the second on TD Bank. Running alongside the week of COP27, she took it upon herself to do a ‘matereality assessment marathon’. Focusing on the food industry and specifically Danone.
Her work reminds me of the Stockdale Paradox, Jim Collins wrote about in Good to Great: ‘the ability to confront the brutal facts of one’s current reality, whatever they are… with the unwavering faith that you will prevail.’
Matereality and its core
Matereality is an invitation to us all.
Not only for ESG reporting to actually inform and transform business strategy and contribute to industrial healing, but how we as individuals, leaders and companies can be and act generally.
For me, there are four aspects in particular.
Life-affirming: it nurtures a mindset, heartset and process which is orientated in service of life, recognizing and honoring the interconnected, interspecies nature of the desired future.
Lorraine ‘starts with the end in mind’. Simply and powerfully she asks “is this company contributing to the future we want? If so, how? If not, what do we need to change?” As she says, “the point isn’t to have one perfectly defined future, rather to ensure that a company is even asking whether or not they’re contributing to a future we want. I believe we would do well to sit with these questions and at the moment regular materiality doesn’t ask them”.
Transparency: with an open heart and open mind, she role models real learning before our very eyes. She is doing it in the public sphere, using the documents and disclosures companies have made available. Free open source work, inviting co-creation, collaboration and evolution. You can see who she interviewed, with transcripts and videos. You can comment on, chart progress, engage with and give feedback.
Powerful questions and deep listening: “The leader of the past knew how to tell, the leader of the future will know how to ask”, wrote Peter Drucker. And more poetically Rilke wrote, “try and love the questions themselves”. As a curious soul and active listener, Lorraine brings these qualities and skills into the industrial healing conversation. Questions inviting us to explore futures… What is the future you want, and how does x contribute to that? And questions that traditional materiality reports don’t engage in. How does it affect the Global South? the non-human world?.
Interbeings: with a reverence and respect for how life works, Lorraine’s Matereality approach explicitly seeks out the views of non-human stakeholders. Given my earthconverse offering, she reached out to me in the early stages to explore this with her. Here is our conversation. And since, she has created an interspecies explorations list of her own writing, which will grow as we all delve into further inquiry and listening.
Final word to the Mistress
Orland Bishop says, “it is our responsibility to share what we know”.
Not only is Lorraine sharing her journey and work, she is offering webinars to share this method and approach with the world. Particularly anyone seeking hands-on guidance with environmental, social, and governance frameworks based on what she’s been learning with Matereality.
In quintessential Lorraine style, she isn’t offering a ‘Master Class’ but a Mistress class, because it is just a pronunciation misstep away from “mischief”.
She’s right – we do need more mischief to break out of our current ways.