Adria region embraces ESG standards: energy transition and innovation key for sustainable future

Biljana Braithwaite

 – CEO and Founding Partner at Sustineri Partners, founder of ESG Adria Summit  –

The ESG Adria Summit 2024, held in Tivat, Montenegro from April 24th to 26th, successfully concluded its two-day agenda, leaving attendees enriched with insights on sustainable practices and technological innovations aimed at a sustainable future. This major regional conference, in its second consecutive year, was organized by Sustineri Partners, in partnership with the Government of Montenegro and under the auspices of the President of Montenegro, at Porto Montenegro in Tivat.

The goal of this Summit was to take a broader view of the challenges of sustainability and to contribute to the strengthening of national economies and regional cooperation through the exchange of expert opinions and business experiences of notable personalities. More than 600 participants from 250 companies and organizations had the opportunity to listen to over 100 panelists, including President of Montenegro, Jakov Milatovic, President of Republic of Slovenia, Natasa Pirc Musar, Federica Mogherini, Rector of College of Europe, Dunja Mijatovic, Human Rights Expert, Former Commissioner for the Human Rights, Council of Europe, government representatives, renowned business leaders,  professors, and representatives of various international organizations, who presented their views and discussed ESG principles from various angles. We talked about ESG Adria Summit and some of the highlights from the Summit, with Biljana Braithwaite, CEO and Founding Partner at Sustineri Partners, founder of ESG Adria Summit.

How does the strategic expansion of this year’s summit to include the Adriatic area, specifically Croatia and Slovenia, impact the summit’s focus and objectives? What factors are driving the shift towards sustainability in investment trends, and how are these influences shaping business practices and market dynamics in Europe?

This year marks a watershed moment for our summit as we extend our reach beyond the Western Balkans to embrace the dynamic Adriatic area, including Croatia and Slovenia. This strategic expansion not only deepens our engagement with crucial themes such as sustainable finance, the green transition, significant regional investments, and the burgeoning fields of artificial intelligence and startup development, but also opens new horizons of possibilities.

By casting a wider net, we are not only responding to the increased interest in ESG across the region but are also positioning ourselves at the forefront of the broader dialogue on sustainability. These areas are crucial for advancing not just regional but also global prosperity through innovative and sustainable practices.

Investment trends indicate a marked shift towards sustainability, with asset owners integrating ESG factors as core components of risk management and long-term value creation. This is propelled not only by regulatory pressures, such as those from the EU’s Action Plan on Financing Sustainable Growth, but also by a growing recognition of the financial benefits of sustainable practices. Companies with strong ESG profiles are proving to be less risky and more profitable: in plain terms, ESG is good for business.

Regulatory developments also play a significant role, particularly here in Europe. The past decade has seen a surge in sustainability-related initiatives, from the Paris Agreement to the Sustainable Development Goals, now being transposed into national laws. These regulations guide businesses towards more sustainable practices. Moreover, reputation and consumer preferences are becoming increasingly influential. Today’s consumers and workforce, particularly younger generations, favour companies that demonstrate ethical practices and sustainability, aligning market demands with ESG principles.

Nowhere is this more the case than in Europe. To use a metaphor, the dynamo of our regional transition can only be powered by renewable energy and sustainable financing. Transformation of our businesses to grasp the opportunities from EU near-shoring to foreign direct investments can only come from within. It is challenging but not impossible. 

The green economy (based on low carbon emissions, resource-efficient and socially inclusive) is recognized as one of the key directions for achieving strategic goals in the areas of climate change mitigation, resource efficiency, the introduction of circular economy principles, as well as the general growth of Western Balkans` competitiveness, but also economy of the countries of the region. In addition, circular economy and the fight against air, water and soil pollution, i.e. preservation of biodiversity, are increasingly important in the discussions that took place.

The ESG Adria Summit also provided a platform for constructive dialogue on the key challenges that prevent direct foreign investment in the region, especially those that are of long-term interest to the region and citizens. One of the key steps recognized is the importance of establishing a functional mechanism of intersectoral coordination, especially when it comes to decarbonization and achieving the goals of the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans. Clearly defining roles and responsibilities in the process of implementing the Green Agenda, as well as adapting the legal framework to international tenants, play a significant role in improving regional competitiveness on the global market. In addition, it is important to recognize and enable a greater role of local communities and civil society in all activities, and to implement their specific recommendations for decarbonization, circular economy, biodiversity protection and the fight against pollution. All these measures will strengthen the Adria region on the way to the implementation of ESG principles, creating an opportunity for growth and greater competitiveness on the global market, which in the long term will bring significant benefits to both economic growth and society as a whole.

ESG Adria Summit is recognized as a place where partnerships are built, where some of the regional initiatives are launched. What are the initiatives launched at this year`s ESG Adria Summit?

Last year, we have launched one of the biggest regional initiative with the goal to increase representation of women in leadership positions and in boards in companies in Adria region and to The Women on Boards Adria (WOBA) initiative, launched at our inaugural summit, exemplifies the power of collective endeavour. In the past year we have, in partnership with many of you in this room, we have set up WOBA as non for profit which ran activities throughout the region, with well over 1000 women joining our events so far, 14 institutional and corporate partnerships and 40 highly motivated leaders and ambassadors from throughout the region who engage with legislators and business to advance gender equality agenda.

Our focus is on fostering collaboration and driving change. The challenges we face are interconnected, requiring a unified approach that harnesses the collective power of our networks, expertise, and passion for change. This year, at the ESG Adria Summit, we have announced three new initiatives that hold exciting promise of further advancing sustainability:

We have launch a framework for cooperation with WB6 CIF (Chamber investment forum), which brings together chambers’ of commerce of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, dedicated to supporting companies in the region in aligning their business strategies with the ESG agenda.

We are launching a comprehensive ESG training program and certification for mid-career professionals in collaboration with FEFA Faculty in Belgrade, European University in Tirana and Economic Faculty in Rijeka, with the first cohort starting in the autumn this year.

Third, we will launch regional ESG Adria Talks to raise awareness about ESG and push further the sustainability agenda in the Adria region.

Finally, in collaboration with Universal Capital Bank, at the Summit, we have launched our new NextGen Programme. This is a particular highlight of the Summit, highlighting the importance of innovation and youth involvement in creating and developing ESG agenda. It will recognise some of the most impressive young leaders from across our Adria region, and empower them to contribute their innovative ideas and perspectives directly to our discussions on ESG standards.