Environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) is a multidimensional term for strategies, reporting and action plans on various factors that impact an organization's sustainability. ESG presents an opportunity to build a more sustainable business and can be a key differentiator to enhance relevancy and trust with an organization’s stakeholders. These include external stakeholders (investors, customers, communities and regulators) and internal stakeholders (employees, management and board members). Built strategically, an ESG program can create value within an organization and be a catalyst to attract and retain talent.
A successful and holistic ESG function should build on an organization’s existing enterprise risk management (ERM) program and align with the organization’s strategic initiatives and priorities. This requires collaboration, coordination and leverage.
The collaboration is among existing ERM functions (the board, executive management and risk owners) and perhaps newer ESG functions to facilitate a comprehensive risk management program. This includes knowledge sharing, education and leveraging the skillset of each function to understand, identify, evaluate and address risk and recognize opportunities across the enterprise.
Coordination includes developing comprehensive risk management reporting for management and the board that incorporates both ESG and ERM risks.
Finally, organizations should leverage their existing risk management processes to incorporate ESG and ERM; there is no need to start from scratch regarding ESG-related initiatives.
Many organizations identify talent management, cybersecurity, and community relations as risks within their ERM program. Likely, organizations have deployed different initiatives to address these risks. For example, an organization may struggle with attracting and retaining talent; managing employee performance; training and developing employees; planning for succession; and addressing workforce shortages.
Existing ERM mitigation plans may include initiatives for employee engagement, development programs, and commitment to a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture, all of which align with ESG-related initiatives. An organization may address retention issues by deploying employee engagement surveys and action plans to address concerns and improve employee experience. It may address talent gaps by evaluating campus recruiting strategies to support a diverse candidate pool.
Developing a successful ESG strategy requires engaging both external and internal stakeholders. Identifying data and information related to ESG risks provides organizations with the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of their ERM mitigation plans and ESG-related strategic initiatives. These metrics can inform an organization and provide visibility to where additional efforts may be needed to address the risks.
Organizations also should perform a benchmarking exercise to review risks identified by competitors, peer organizations or associations (like the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB)) to gather insight on the applicable risks they have identified. This exercise will help to create a comprehensive evaluation of relevant ESG risks.
The next step is to perform a materiality assessment to evaluate the impact of each risk and the likelihood it will occur. Some of the impacts to consider for each risk include:
This exercise will help an organization define the applicable tolerance level for each risk. For example, ESG-related metrics for evaluation and reporting of talent management related risks may include:
Once an organization has identified relevant sustainability issues, it can undertake a materiality assessment. This is a way for an organization to identify and prioritize which ESG initiatives have the most impact and influence on an organization’s stakeholders. The results can serve as a guide to determine what an organization should focus on related to ESG.
Some of the benefits of a materiality assessment include:
The results and data can be used to identify disclosures and initiatives in public sustainability documents.
In order to complete a materiality assessment analysis, an organization should:
An organization faces many challenges to successfully incorporate ESG strategies into its existing ERM program, including: