ESG
FinanceNovember 15, 2022

Who is looking at your ESG performance data?

Read this blog to discover who's really looking at your ESG report and why do they care

A recent Wolters Kluwer study revealed that 82% of finance and business leaders must comply with sustainability requirements or ESG regulations. Even without mandatory regulatory standards in place, I would bet my bottom dollar that more companies would voluntarily take on sustainability initiatives and thus, produce ESG reports. 

Why? Because more stakeholders are looking. 

The number of parties with vested interests in ESG performance has dramatically increased. The tendency is to think of investors as the sole consumer, judge, and jury of ESG reports, but that's changing, especially as other stakeholders find themselves subject to ESG expectations. 

So, who's really looking at your ESG reports? And why do they care? 

Investors

Let's start with the obvious: investors! Today's investors want to ensure their money supports organizations that align with their values. Increasingly, those values are moving further and further away from brown stocks. Investors are leaning away from companies that might risk damaging the environment, operate with inequities, or are vulnerable to corruption.  

While sustainable investing is value-based for many investors, it's also the safer, more lucrative investment in many cases. 

A study by Nordea Equity Research reported that, over three years, companies with high ESG ratings outperformed the lowest-rated companies by as much as 40%. 
 
A Bank of America Merrill Lynch study found that firms with a healthier ESG record yielded higher three-year returns. They were also more likely to become high-quality stocks, less likely to experience significant price drops, and less likely to go bankrupt.  

All this to say, an ESG score isn't just a number. It indicates to investors that your company is a proactive, forward-thinking entity that will satisfy the investor's need for ROI and their conscience.  

Internal stakeholders 

Many stakeholders within a business can benefit from ESG performance data.  

For example: 

  • Sales and marketing can use ESG data to showcase a company's sustainability performance in their efforts to entice new customers.
  • IR and PR teams can tout ESG successes to improve the company's reputation.
  • HR reps can use social data to attract talent.
  • Finance teams and chief executives can use ESG insights to improve profitability, contain costs, identify new business opportunities, and recognize areas of investment and divestment when ESG data is connected to financial performance

Organizations can put ESG performance data to work in many ways. Regarding business value, ESG reports can give every department leverage in furthering the growth and goodwill towards an organization.  

ESG scoring bodies

A good ESG score is a golden ticket to a favorable ESG reputation. To receive one, you'll have to complete surveys or create reports designed by third-party providers, who then calculate ESG scores based on the metrics and ESG performance you reported. Like a credit score or a bond rating, an ESG score demonstrates your company's ability to meet its ESG commitments, performance, and risk exposure.  

Notable ESG scoring organizations are Bloomberg ESG Data Services, Sustainalytics, ESG Risk Ratings, JUST Capital, MSCI, Refinitiv, Dow Jones Sustainability Index Family, and RepRisk. 

Banks and financial institutions 

Banks, capital markets, and wealth managers are moving towards ESG agendas. This is not just an ethical move but one of demand, risk, and reward. 

In terms of demand, millennials lean significantly towards sustainable investments. A survey by EY found that millennials are twice as likely to invest in a fund or stock if social responsibility is a component of the value creation narrative. (Might I remind you millennials are the demographic soon to be society's primary wealth holders.)  

In terms of risk, the liability to banks is two-fold. First, banks are subject to the same sustainability scrutiny as other businesses — customers want to bank with sustainably responsible banks. And second, banks face similar challenges to investors: lending to companies that aren't sustainable could also pose threats to their business. Will a coal mine be able to repay its debts when sustainable alternatives take over? While banks might not be in this scenario just yet, in the future, it's possible that businesses could see requests for funding denied if they don't prove to be sustainable enough.

In terms of reward, again, we see companies with strong ESG performing better than those with weak ESG. An analysis completed by global investment manager BlackRock found that up to 88% of sustainable funds outperformed their non-sustainable counterparts between January 1, 2020, and April 30, 2020. Why would a wealth manager allocate funds to an unsustainable stock when a more sustainable and equally (if not more) profitable alternative exists? Why choose to lose/win when you could choose to win/win? 

Regulators 

Incoming! A stampede of regulations is making its way into the ESG reporting arena. Two regulations of note are: 

The EU's Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence (CSDD) 

In February 2022, the European Commission published a draft of the CSDD. If passed, the CSDD would require companies to disclose the impacts of their operations on human rights and the environment.  

The US's new climate-related disclosures 

In March 2022, the SEC proposed expansive new climate-related disclosures related to greenhouse gas emissions, climate risks, transition plans, and governance. 

Sullivan and Cromwell LLP has a great round-up of the latest (up to May 2022) ESG regulatory advancements here. The bottom line: ESG is being written into everything from litigation to financial institutions, disclosure and governance, and law. While your particular flavor of ESG regulation will be subject to your jurisdiction and industry, you can bet on increased regulatory scrutiny coming your way soon. 

Consumers  

B2C companies find themselves with a consumer who cares about their product, how it's made, and who's making it. Recent PWC research found that: 

  • Consumers aged 17 - 38 years are almost twice as likely to consider ESG issues when making purchasing decisions than others. 
  • Over half of consumers surveyed said that a company's purpose and values played a role in their purchasing decisions. 
  • 49% of consumers and 66% of millennials use the internet to learn more about a company's ESG practices before buying a product or service. 

From this, we can conclude a few things. The future of the sales will be dependent on ESG performance. And consumers aren't satisfied with marketing promises — they want the ESG evidence, and your reports will be front in center of their investigations. 

Everyone's looking at ESG 

Don't make stakeholders struggle to seek out your ESG performance. By using a corporate performance management approach to ESG reporting, you can tell your sustainability story, disclose according to multiple new and evolving frameworks, and connect financial outcomes, operational activities, and ESG performance to ensure sustainability is always tied to doing good for the earth, people, and your bottom line.  

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