What is ESG and why does it matter?

For businesses, sustainability is no longer a buzzword – it's a fundamental necessity.

As corporations recognise the interconnectedness of environmental, social and governance factors, a new paradigm has emerged: ESG. This acronym, standing for Environmental, Social and Governance, represents a holistic framework that assesses a company's impact on not just its financial bottom line, but also its contribution to society and the planet. 

Since 60% of carbon reduction will need to come from individuals and businesses in the next 15 years to meet Net Zero targets, it’s more important than ever to build sustainable practices into everyday business activity.

Let’s delve into what ESG means, and why it's essential for businesses to embrace this concept…

What is ESG?

Here's how ESG embraces environmental, social and governance elements within a business...

  • Environmental: This aspect evaluates a company's impact on the environment, including its carbon footprint, waste management, resource utilisation, and commitment to sustainable practices. Businesses are increasingly under scrutiny to reduce their ecological footprint and transition towards renewable energy sources, as concerns about climate change escalate.
  • Social: The social dimension encompasses a company's relationships with its employees, customers, communities, and broader society. Factors like labour practices, employee diversity and wellbeing, customer privacy, community engagement, and product safety fall under this category. A strong social stance contributes not only to positive public perception but also to employee satisfaction and overall business resilience.
  • Governance: Governance addresses a company's internal structures, policies, and practices. This includes matters such as board composition, executive compensation, transparency, ethics, and adherence to regulatory standards. Strong governance ensures that businesses operate with integrity and accountability, fostering trust among stakeholders.

Why does ESG matter for businesses?

New Research outlining the business benefits of ESG leadership is rightfully earning attention. This report from Harvard Business School explains the value businesses can gain from ESG initiatives, including increased innovation, improved employee retention rates and reduced production costs.

On top of that, research from Morningstar proves that ESG leaders outperform their market equivalents, and demonstrate stronger resiliency during market downturns.

Embracing ESG principles offers a myriad of benefits to businesses that extend beyond ethical considerations, including:

  • Risk Mitigation: A robust ESG framework mitigates risks associated with regulatory changes and environmental challenges, ensuring long-term operational stability. Companies that incorporate ESG principles into their operations are generally better equipped to identify and mitigate future risks, and proactive management of environmental and social challenges can prevent costly legal issues, reputational damage and operational disruptions. 

  • Enhanced Brand Reputation: ESG-conscious businesses tend to build stronger relationships with customers, investors and the general public. Ethical practices and sustainable initiatives resonate positively with stakeholders, translating into a robust brand image and increased competitiveness in the market.

  • Access to Capital: integrating ESG practices enhances a company's reputation and fosters stronger stakeholder relationships, as consumers and investors increasingly prioritise socially responsible organisations. Investors are increasingly integrating ESG factors into their decision-making processes, so businesses that align with ESG principles are more likely to attract sustainable investments and secure funding from ESG-focused funds and institutions, as well as build more trust amongst stakeholders.

  • Innovation and Adaptation: Embracing ESG often drives innovation in an ever-changing market landscape, and can lead to higher efficiency. ESG initiatives can also encourage companies to develop sustainable products, technologies and operational practices, leading to potential cost savings and a competitive edge in a rapidly evolving market. 

  • Talent Attraction and Retention: The workforce of today places a high value on purpose-driven work environments. By prioritising employee wellbeing and diversity, businesses can foster a more engaged and productive workforce, reducing turnover rates and attracting top talent.

  • Long-Term Value Creation: ESG is not just about short-term gains; it's about building a foundation for long-term success. By addressing environmental and social concerns, businesses can contribute positively to society while securing their own sustainability and positive reputation.

Some of the risks of not adopting ESG include negative publicity, lack of compliance and difficulty attracting funding or investment, as well as recruiting and retaining staff. Reliance on non-renewable energy sources and high-carbon practices can also lead to increased costs and supply chain disruptions.

Ultimately, embracing ESG principles not only aligns a company's operations with global sustainability goals, but also generates positive financial outcomes and resilience in the face of a dynamic business landscape.

How to incorporate ESG into a business

Organisations need to take a proactive approach to ESG, by building a strong foundation for monitoring and reporting on ESG metrics both externally and internally.

The key steps for implementing ESG include:

  • Assessment: Conduct a comprehensive analysis of your company's ESG performance, identifying strengths and areas for improvement.

  • Integration: Integrate ESG considerations into your business strategy, from product development to supply chain management.

  • Transparency: Communicate your ESG initiatives clearly to stakeholders, demonstrating your commitment to sustainable practices.

  • Continuous Improvement: ESG is an ongoing journey. Regularly assess and update your ESG goals and performance metrics.

If you’re unsure where to start, globally recognised ESG-related frameworks can help your organisation to implement and measure the success of your ESG initiatives.

Choosing to align to a framework can help elevate your reputation as an ESG leader. Common frameworks include: 

  • U.N. Sustainable Development Goals: Guidelines developed in a global partnership that set a blueprint for sustainable actions across climate change, health and inequality. 
  • Carbon Disclosure Project: A global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities, states and regions to manage their environmental impact. 
  • Global Reporting Initiative: The GRI Standards create a common language for organizations to report on their sustainability impacts in a consistent and credible way. This enhances global comparability and enables organizations to be transparent and accountable. 

But with so many standards, frameworks and reporting mechanisms on offer, it can be overwhelming to decide which to align your organisation with. That's why we've developed ESG Baseline, to help guide your journey to more sustainable business.

ESG Baseline will provide data and insights for your organisation, and support your journey with a hosted workshop specifically tailored to your organisation's needs. ESG Baseline is a 12-month programme which takes you through the steps to make it happen, with guidance and advice tailored to your individual context and situation. 

You'll get a bespoke ESG Strategy and Action Plan, as well as online support and guidance for your customised plan.

ESG has transcended being a mere corporate buzzword; it's become a guiding principle for businesses navigating today's complex landscape. Embracing ESG is not just about compliance; it's about aligning your business with the needs and expectations of a changing world. 

By addressing environmental challenges, fostering social responsibility, and ensuring sound governance, companies can thrive while contributing positively to society and the planet. As we move forward, ESG will continue to shape the business world, driving innovation, resilience, and sustainable growth.

If you're ready to start your ESG journey, we'd love to help. Click here to find out more about ESG Baseline and how it could work for your business.