Understanding the success and risks associated with ESG initiatives: Takeaways from our Exec Connect Breakfast

News & Insights / Neil Morrison / 3 min read

In October, Elspeth Rothwell, EMEA CEO at Vested and Jennifer Walmsley, partner at Dentons Global Advisors joined our measurement expert Neil Morrison alongside a group of senior Comms leaders at the Duck and Waffle

I’ve mentioned a few times over the last months that ESG has the potential to elevate Comms within companies. Perception in the media is a powerful data set in understanding the success and risks associated with ESG initiatives. Comms are adept at monitoring the media and informing colleagues and they are also usually the figurehead for an organisation when things go well and when they go wrong. In other words they are in the perfect position to both feed into overarching business strategy and to develop strategies on how best to communicate to disparate groups of stakeholders.

ESG Specialists 

A number of companies have started to employ ESG specialists in Comms and this feels like the right step. An understanding of everything that is happening within a company and sector is key to getting this right. Rushing out campaigns and messaging opens up a huge amount of risk. What if it contradicts work already done? What if it opens up an unexpected debate, like an unwanted domino effect? A specialist can help a company understand how campaigns and initiatives are going to be perceived before pressing the button. Using data to inform this decision can further cement this. What has worked before, what are others doing well. Is it the right time to push this agenda?

Silence is not an option

A key theme at our discussion was that people felt they were doing a lot of worthy initiatives but not talking about them. A phrase used was ‘not very good’ at talking about ESG. I’m not sure that is the case. I’m guessing it is more to do with the fear of the outcomes. Comms has become fearful of cancel culture and greenwashing to the extent that saying nothing feels like the preferable option. However, stakeholders expect companies to have a view and silence is seen as inaction. It’s a really tricky dynamic for Comms to navigate.

ESG as BAU 

At its core ESG is about running a sustainable, well run business. Will we always need to focus efforts on specific initiatives or will this become business as usual? Generations are entering the workspace with expectations that there should be gender pay parity, that the business should be run responsibly, that the environment should come before profits. People are choosing companies to work for based on this, where the culture becomes as if not more important than compensation. The shift in attitude and behaviour that will inevitably come with a shift in generation should mean that ESG initiatives become the norm and then blend into BAU.

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