ESG Guide: Strategies, Drivers and Impacts

In today's business climate, Environmental, Social, and Governance issues, once considered peripheral, now hold the key to long-term success and resilience. As sustainability becomes crucial for companies, it's important to incorporate ESG values and practices into a business’s core strategy. The development of an effective ESG strategy is not just about being socially responsible; it's about creating value and mitigating risks in a rapidly evolving global landscape.

This guide outlines a structured approach to design an effective ESG strategy for organisations, providing actionable steps to assess, measure, and manage ESG performance.

Building an effective ESG Strategy

Developing an effective and suitable ESG strategy requires a holistic approach that includes the different aspects of the ESG framework. The process towards designing an ESG Strategy encompasses several key phases:

  • Company ESG Assessment
  • ESG objectives and targets set
  • ESG action plan definition
  • Performance monitoring and reporting
  • Continuous improvement

1. Company ESG Assessment

The first step is to evaluate the organisation's current ESG performance.

  • Benchmarking: Compare the business ESG performance with peers in its industry, helping to identify best practices and set realistic targets for improvement.
  • Materiality assessment: Identify the most relevant ESG issues to the organisation and its stakeholders by conducting a double materiality assessment. Engaging with stakeholders, such as investors, employees, and suppliers, can provide valuable insights into their priorities and concerns.
  • Gap analysis: Determine the discrepancies between the current ESG performance and the best practices in the reference industry. This will help identify areas where the organisation can improve and the current impacts of the company.

This initial assessment will help the company to understand its strengths, weaknesses, and potential areas for improvement. To conduct a sustainability assessment, it is essential to consider the following elements.

2. Defining ESG Goals and Objectives

  • ESG objectives and targets: After assessing the current ESG performance, it is important to set clear, measurable, and time-bound objectives for each ESG dimension (environmental, social, and governance).  These goals should be aligned with the organisation's overall strategy and values.
  • Global Standards alignment: When developing an ESG strategy it is fundamental to adopt recognised ESG frameworks, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards, to guide the definition of ESG targets.
  • SMART goals setting: Ensure the company’s objectives are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This will facilitate progress tracking and help maintain accountability.

3. ESG Action Plan

With clear objectives in place, it is time to develop an action plan to achieve them. The action plan should outline the specific steps, resources, and timelines required to reach the company’s ESG targets.

  • Role allocation: Clearly define roles and responsibilities for ESG implementation across all levels of the organisation.
  • Stakeholder engagement: Include stakeholders in the development and execution of the ESG action plan to ensure their perspectives are considered and to foster a sense of shared responsibility.
  • ESG integration in decision-making: Incorporate ESG considerations into the organisation's decision-making processes, including investment decisions, risk management, and strategic planning.

4. Monitoring Performance and Reporting

  • Adopt reporting framework: utilising recognised ESG reporting framework, such as the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) or the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), to ensure consistency and comparability in reporting.
  • Setting KPIs: is necessary to develop key performance indicators (KPIs) for each ESG objective and establish a process for collecting and analysing data.
  • Transparent communication: Share ESG performance with stakeholders through annual sustainability reports, investor presentations, and other communication channels.

Be transparent about challenges and setbacks to maintain credibility and trust.

5. Continuous Improvement

ESG issues are dynamic, and an organisation's strategy should be flexible enough to evolve with changing circumstances. Continuously assessing ESG performance, learning from experiences, and refining the strategy to stay ahead of emerging risks and opportunities are important steps to take on a daily basis.

It is also important to promote a culture of continuous learning and improvement within the organisation, and encourage employees to share ideas and provide feedback on ESG initiatives and performance.

Regularly assess ESG goals and targets to ensure they remain relevant and aligned with the organisation's strategy and stakeholder expectations, and remain updated on emerging trends, best practices, and regulatory changes related to ESG issues.

Attend industry conferences, engage with experts, and participate in industry forums to stay updated on developments in the ESG landscape.

Beyond compliance: building a robust ESG framework

Creating an effective ESG strategy is a continuous and iterative process that requires a commitment to ongoing enhancement and adaptation. By effectively assessing current performance, establishing clear and shared objectives, developing an action plan, monitoring progress, an organisation can navigate the complex ESG landscape. This not only contributes to environmental, social, and governance but also boosts brand reputation, and contribute to its long-term financial success.