Sustainable Futures: ESG is under siege – but keep the faith
Victoria Cross gives sustainability communications professionals plenty of reasons to stay strong and suggests four ways to make a real impact in their crucial work, despite the difficulties they face on a daily basis.
There’s a reason so many ESG and sustainability professionals have switched roles in the last year or taken time out of personal reasons. This stuff is really hard.
We have daily headlines attacking the profession’s credibility or criticising a brand for not living up to its claims. Then there are the personal anxieties of not always making the most sustainable choices in our own lives. The conflicts of working in this profession, only now coming of age, are real.
But we should give ourselves a break. If this was easy the scientists who discovered the man-made impacts of climate change would have succeeded in forcing companies and governments to act decisively 25 years ago, while I was still an undergraduate. Whatever your view on corporate conspiracy theories since, it’s clear the message wasn’t getting through.
We also have to acknowledge that not everyone shares the same appetite for this issue. If we can accept that, then we can choose our battles and save our energy for driving change where it’s going to have the most impact.
How to stay focused on delivering a sustainable future
1. You can’t do sustainability alone
This profession can feel lonely sometimes so finding like-minded people to collaborate with is the answer. Like all complex problems, no organisation is going to solve this in isolation. As communicators, able to bridge the often-cavernous divide between scientists, companies, investors, governments and citizens, our role is vital if real change is going to happen. We need to foster these conversations, ensuring they’re honest and have integrity.
2. Reject ESG tick-boxes that don’t make a real difference
We need to be clear that backward-looking ESG disclosures, designed to satisfy investors filtering lists of stocks, are not the answer. In fact, as daily headlines show, patience has run out with box-ticking to achieve empty ratings. If we’re complicit with this approach we’re simply undermining the very profession we’ve worked so hard to get on the map.
3. Develop sustainability strategies that deliver impact
What matters is that businesses have properly identified the commercial risks and opportunities posed by sustainability issues and have a clear strategy in place to deal with them. Part of our job is to challenge these strategies and ask: “Sounds nice, but does this drive real change or is it just there to look like you’re doing something?” Crucially, we have to ask ourselves: “Is this a management team I can trust to deliver?” Working for teams you don’t really trust is simply wasting your time, and the planet’s.
4. Embrace the challenge
Finally, keep talking. This is only going to get harder as conflict and volatility get worse. But then what better time to be around for those of us blessed with the ability to engage and help deliver meaningful, systemic change and a sustainable future for all.