by Mica Crouse, Vice President, Purpose+Planet & Jay Bryant, Manager, Purpose+Planet
For the first time in two years, sustainability professionals gathered in-person in Arizona to attend GreenBiz 22 – an industry-leading event that had its largest turnout in history. It’s one of a few gatherings where ESG professionals from every industry show up to get inspired, engage in real talk, and hear about emerging solutions that are good for business and the planet.
We’ve compiled three key takeaways to help companies evaluate and advance their ESG strategy, no matter where they are on the journey.
“Long-term Thinking Takes Near-Time Courage”
GreenBiz 30 Under 30 honoree Hana Kajimura, Head of Sustainability for Allbirds, summarized the tension around why integrating ESG is good for business with one powerful statement: “Long-term thinking takes near-time courage.” Companies must rethink and reorganize the way they do business, measure progress, and incentivize staff for us to make meaningful progress on climate change. Companies that have integrated ESG policies in their corporate DNA understand how to move from externalizing negative impacts to maximizing positive impacts, and how doing so helps improve investor and public relations, retain and attract top talent, manage risk and reduce costs, and enhance financial performance. If this sounds complex…that’s because it is. It takes courage – and, therefore, change – for a company to embed ESG into the center of the business. But the courage to assess and adjust in the short term can result in a sound, long-term strategy that benefits not just the company and its bottom line, but the planet as well.
We Must Measure What Matters
Ask any sustainability communications professional who develops ESG reports (like us!) about their biggest pain point, and we’ll all probably say the same thing: it’s the “alphabet soup” of climate disclosure frameworks (e.g., TCFD, GRI, SASB): too many standards, and not enough standardization. A recent study found almost half (45%) of valuation experts believe a “lack of a standardized and recognized measurement system is the biggest threat to effective ESG disclosures for businesses.” In short: we’ve made it too complicated. And we must measure what matters. For investors and sustainability geeks like us, 2022 will be pivotal as we await the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s requirement on climate disclosures, which will hopefully provide much-needed clarity. We’re also closely watching the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) to provide a global baseline for ESG reporting, which will hopefully combine several frameworks into a streamlined standard. While we wait, companies should continue moving disclosures forward using the tools that are available, such as the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) framework and Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) standards.
Environment, Economy, Equity for All
When asked whether companies should always consider environmental justice (EJ) when developing sustainability initiatives, Vice President, Community Engagement at Environmental Defense Fund Heather McTeer Toney (and my old colleague!) answered with an unwavering “Yes – without an option of no.” Today, race — even more than class — is the #1 indicator for the placement of toxic facilities in the United States. Businesses must play a role in addressing structural inequities that expose poor, minority, and disenfranchised populations to environmental hazards like dirty air and contaminated water (for example, the Flint water crisis). And the risk of not acting has never been higher: activists are calling out corporate say/do gaps more than ever before, and they are louder than ever. Tools such as B Lab’s practical guide help companies better understand the intersection and advance a “justice-centered approach to sustainability efforts.” Key takeaways include:
- It’s about listening, learning and progress, not about checking boxes
- Design all – especially climate – activities with a racial justice lens; take a more holistic approach and move beyond “carbon tunnel vision”
- Conduct a social impact assessment to answer key questions about the implications of operations
- Start close to home, where you have the most impact
- Influence policies to reduce systemic inequities
Among attendees, there was an overall sense of exhaustion and burnout. But also, renewed hope. GreenBiz Chairman & Co-founder, Joel Makower, summed it up best in his opening speech: “we can never lose faith that we will prevail in the end, yet we must stay tuned in to the brutal facts of our current reality.” Joel’s duality video is a must-watch for anyone working in the ESG sector (and in any social impact role). It was the reminder we needed that our work is important, and we must keep each other lifted in spirit. Because the world can’t wait.
All keynote recordings for GreenBiz 22 can be viewed here.
Golin’s Purpose+Planet practice is made up of more than 30 subject matter experts in social impact, cause marketing, sustainability, diversity, equity, and inclusion. We design powerful campaigns and create inclusive strategies and solutions for clients to be equitable, sustainable, and act with purpose. Need guidance on ESG analysis, reporting, communications, or simply want to geek out about this space? Email Jay Bryant at firstname.lastname@example.org.