Monday, January 13, 2020

ESG Experts Predict Big Change in 2020

2020 is here and with it predictions for what is in store from an ESG perspective. Will this be the year we finally see a groundswell of investors pushing companies for ESG disclosure? Will millennials’ purchasing decisions continue to be swayed by sustainable practices? Will more companies take stands on critical public policy issues such as gun control and reproductive choice?

Here are my predictions:
  •          We will see more and more restaurants and food companies add plant-based options to their menus.
  • ESG rankings and ratings will see more consolidation and face more pressure as investors carry out their own ESG research and engage directly with companies for information. At the same time, CR/sustainability professionals will forge closer bonds with their investor relations colleagues. 
  •         In the U.S., we will see more focus from NGOs on corporate political spending governance and disclosure in the run-up to the November elections.

Let’s hear from other ESG experts on what they foresee in the next 12 months. I asked a dozen to share their thoughts. Here is what they predict.

“An exponentially increased focus on ESG investing which will bring greater scrutiny to data, performance, transparency, communications and the efficacy of reporting frameworks such as GRI, SASB and TCFD.”  – Jane Madden, Managing Director, Finn Partners

“The EU will use leading legislation to steer its economy(ies) further in the interest of workers, citizens and society at large, and the environment.” Sarah Bostwick Stromoski, Manager, CEO & Investor Engagement, Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP)

“Companies [will] respond to millennials’ desire to have less, but good quality (reusables, fewer air flights, fewer car purchases).” Judy Sandford, Managing Director of CSR and Sustainability, Addison

"We are going to see an explosion of companies ramping up their sustainability efforts (and communicating them) because of the increased alarm over the lack of action on our climate commitments combined with an increase in scrutiny. Will be a perfect storm that will help to tilt us in the right direction.” Phillip Haid, Co-Founder & CEO, PUBLIC Inc.

“Investor interest in connecting the dots between business value and ESG factors will continue to escalate while businesses face the fact that we will now be 10 short years away from being able to avoid the worst impact of a changed climate.” – Aman Singh, Senior Director of Sustainability Communications, Corporate Reports

“Continued business trend to commit to ‘Carbon net zero’ in 2-3 years’ time. [Businesses will move] From sustainability strategy to sustainable business strategy. [Increased] Focus on intersection of ‘digital’ with ‘sustainable.’” –  Thomas Scheiwiller, Founder and Owner, Scheiwiller Impacts 

“Trends in 2020 -- Climate action and collective action.” –  Melissa Orozco, Founder, Yulu Public Relations

“Relevant stakeholders, such as consumers, investors and governments, are growing reticent to accept private-sector sustainability claims at face value. From the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigating the veracity of some ESG funds, to ongoing skepticism that the Business Roundtable will back up its new purpose statement with action, it's clear that words alone won't cut it anymore. This is a trend that's already bubbling under the surface and may well reach a fever pitch in 2020 and beyond.” -- Mary Mazzoni, Senior Editor,, and Managing editor, CR Magazine

Have predictions of your own? Send them in via the comments button below.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog, which will explore ESG wishes for 2020. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

ESG Experts Reflect on Significant ESG Events of 2019

The end of 2019 seemed, for me, to go by like a whirlwind. Finishing up projects for clients, getting presents wrapped and under the Christmas tree, and preparing for a house full of guests. Before I knew it, we were ringing in the New Year with family, friends and glasses of prosecco. 

Before I jumped right into the new year, I took a moment to ask a few friends and fellow ESG experts for their reflections on what they considered to be the most significant ESG events – positive or negative -- in 2019. 

From my own perspective, while not really an “event” but more of a collective trend was the awakening of many companies to the importance of taking stances on policy issues critical to their businesses, their employees and their customers. Examples include Levi’s and Walmart’s public support for gun control; Chobani’s continued calls for immigration reform; and support for abortion rights from companies such as Eileen Fisher and MAC Cosmetics. The other “event,” of course, that swept the world was Greta Thunberg, whose voice and actions will hopefully continue to have an impact in the years ahead. 

Have thoughts of your own? Send them in via the comments button below. 

Stay tuned for next week’s blog, which will explore predictions for 2020. 

Looking back on 2019, what were one or two of the most significant events from an ESG perspective? 

“I think it has to be the Business Roundtable Statement. I know many people were skeptical about it as long in intention, short on action, but I think its symbolism will propel the movement to a purpose economy forward."
Phillip Haid, Co-Founder & CEO, PUBLIC Inc.

“On the positive side, the growth and amplification of the climate crisis by youth activists Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Villaseñor, Autumn Pelletier, Bruno Rodríguez and the millions of students participating in school strikes around the world. … Unfortunately, the Failure of COP 25 -- “the meltdown in Madrid” -- shows that governments are not willing to take the necessary actions to mitigate and finance an effective plan to combat the climate crisis.” 
– Jane Madden, Managing Director, Finn Partners 

"Good news: Goldman Sachs became the first bank to say no to Arctic drilling and financing coal. Tied in first place for bad news: [1] The second shoe fell with news that BlackRock and Vanguard have not been living up to all their talk about pushing for climate action. [2] COP26 fell apart with zero traction shown on ESG/climate by industry and government.”
Aman Singh, Senior Director of Sustainability Communications, Corporate Reports 

“The Business Roundtable's Statement on the Purpose of the Corporation was significant for 2 reasons: (1) It's difficult to get 180 people to agree strongly enough with something to sign their name to it. (2) It generated as much buzz among companies, media, governments, citizens, conferences and meetings large and small, than anything I remember in the last 10 years.” 
Sarah Bostwick Stromoski, Manager, CEO & Investor Engagement, Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP) 

“[The] Increasing number of shareholder proposals related to climate change and sustainability in general, and the proliferation of long-term or sustainability-related CEO initiatives and commitments (EPIC, CECP, WEF, US CEO Roundtable, etc.). And, the failure of the Madrid COP (unfortunately).”  
–  Thomas Scheiwiller, Founder and Owner, Scheiwiller Impacts 

“There wasn't a lot of great news in 2019 -- for example, emissions worldwide went up last year despite all the hype. Also, the fact that tobacco companies proved themselves to be as nefarious as they always have been with the horrible news about vaping and its impact on public health.” 
Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, and CR Magazine

“GRI adding a tax payments indicator, and Greta Thunberg shaming governments into action.” 
Judy Sandford, Managing Director of CSR and Sustainability, Addison