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Greece: orchestrating a green recovery

10 November 2020: COVID is the latest knock in a 10-year recession for Greece. Is it really viable for sustainability to form part of its recovery? Marios Psaltis, Managing Partner of PwC in Greece, believes it’s not only possible but essential.

Speaking as part of ICAEW’s recent online event with the British Embassy in Athens and WWF Greece, Psaltis explains that rather than distracting from the need to create a greener economy, COVID-19 has strengthened the pressure on businesses to act in a socially responsible way. 

Greece has been in recession for the past 10 years and, as a result, the environment has not been a priority. But lockdown has shown that emissions can be dramatically reduced. The question now is how can we maintain low emissions without perpetuating a recession? He believes the solution is a complete transformation of the economy and a move towards green investments. 

Decarbonisation brings about risk for businesses but Psaltis believes it is time for Greece to lean into sustainability discussions. With market and regulatory pressures increasing by the day, businesses must take green action or risk backlash from society, their customers and investors. But there are also benefits to sustainable investment, from attracting younger customers to being prepared for the future. 

There are significant investment opportunities in food and agricultural technologies, waste management and recycling (an area where Greece has been particularly slow to invest) and renewable energy. In fact, the country has seen a significant uplift in investments in solar and wind power production since the country announced plans to shut down all its lignite-fired power plants by 2028. These moves link in with the digital and technology investment already underway as a key part of the economic recovery plan, as it’s a significant enabler for a greener economy. 

“There’s no time to waste, we need to act now to identify risks, assess the impacts of these risks and be transparent in communicating them to stakeholders,” says Psaltis. “At the same time, we need to be embedding environmental commitments into corporate strategy and reward structures to move towards sustainable growth.” 

These kinds of wholesale changes may be digestible for larger organisations, but how will Greece’s SMEs cope? Currently, 95% of the country’s businesses are small or medium-sized, but the government is looking to provide incentives for them to merge and form bigger organisations, enabling them to adjust and react more effectively. 

And what part will financial institutions play in this move to a more sustainable future? Psaltis believes that creating a standard set of metrics is key to tracking changes and creating accountability. An initiative has just been introduced by the World Economic Forum to agree a common set of rules for Environmental, Social and Governance metrics (ESG) in discussion with the Big Four audit firms, which he believes to be a good move and one that’s backed by business. 

New audit skills will be needed to support these changes, with a move away from solely financial assessments, but he strongly believes that the audit profession has a key part to play in Greece’s move to become a greener economy. And the sooner that move happens, the better.

To watch highlights from the event, please click here.

The event supporters were: The Bank of Greece, The Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Greece and the British Hellenic Chamber of Commerce.