By Maureen Wolff, Chief Executive Officer
With a record $20 billion+ flowing into ESG oriented funds in 2019 in the US alone there is no denying that a compelling Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) platform has become a critical component of investor relations programs and overall communications for corporations of all sizes. Investors, proxy advisory firms and debt rating agencies are demanding it. And, other stakeholders including employees, customers, strategic M&A suitors and suppliers are increasingly considering ESG practices in deciding where to work and with whom to conduct business.
ESG can fundamentally make an organization stronger, more resilient and more attractive to key stakeholders, while helping to mitigate long-term risks. At the same time, the lack of an ESG strategy and sustainability narrative can leave a company exposed and at risk on several fronts.
ESG data is being used on every public company today, whether the companies have released ESG information or not. As BlackRock CEO Larry Fink stated in his 2019 Letter to CEOs, “In the absence of robust disclosures, investors, including BlackRock, will increasingly conclude that companies are not adequately managing risk.” Additionally, BlackRock along with State Street and other institutions have committed to vote against directors at companies that do not demonstrate a commitment to ESG.
The events of recent months -- including the global COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice movement -- have further amplified the need for greater corporate focus on a range of ESG initiatives, including risk oversight, supply chain security, IT infrastructure, employee safety, talent management and diversity and inclusion.
While doing nothing on the ESG front is clearly no longer a viable option, implementing an ESG program can seem overwhelming -- particularly if publishing a full-scale sustainability report that meets GRI or other standards would not be feasible for your company right now.
The good news is that ESG is a journey, not a sprint. By taking a few strategic first steps to put a stake in the ground, you can establish a strong ESG foundation to build upon over time and earn tremendous credit from investors, employees, customers and the society at large.
We’ve guided many companies through this “walk before you run” approach. Here is where we suggest you start: