Developing a Strategy for ESG disclosure

Carol Singer Neuvelt

Thanks again to all of you who joined us in Fort Lauderdale for the “Measuring Sustainability” conference this week. From my perspective, we had a successful day, in that we increased awareness of the issues and we shared ideas for improving the environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting process.

The conference also highlighted some practical advice you can use to build a business case for publicly communicating your sustainability story:

  • Understand the value of disclosure to your business:Today, nearly one out of every eight dollars under professional management in the U.S. is involved with some strategy of socially responsible investment (SRI), according to the Social Investment Forum. Since 2005, SRI assets have increased by more than 34 percent to $3.07 trillion. ESG research firms are therefore asking more questions because their clients (investors) are asking them for that information. As the lead survey responder within your company, it’s important to take the time to discuss the value of disclosure with your C-Suite and with your internal teams.
  • Create a process for vetting requests: Assemble a committee representing all those involved with responding to outside requests. Understand how much time and transparency your company is willing to commit. Then figure out how to collect the information and who will take the lead in managing the request.  Remember that if the information request has an enterprise-wide impact, corporate communications MUST be involved.
  • Do your research, too: When you receive a survey, learn as much about the requesting entity as you can. Are they shareholders? Are they investment managers? Are they research firms? Also find out how the information is used, who the audience is and the influence the resulting products have. If possible, ask members of your network to learn about their experience with working with that firm.
  • Be strategic: While it’s important to be responsive to your stakeholders and investors, you don’t have to be all things to all people. Identify which audiences most matter to your business and participate in the surveys that reach that audience.  For some companies, investors may be the most important audience; for those with strong consumer brands, on the other hand, the more mainstream (published) rankings might matter more.
  • Build relationships: Dialogues are always better than surveys. ESG firms want to understand how your business operates, so if there’s something you think they’ve misunderstood, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone. And if you think they’re asking the wrong questions, tell them why. They want to know which metrics are material to your business, but they need your input.
  •  Be consistent: Remember that you’re in this for the long-haul, so develop a solid strategy and stick with it.

What advice would you add to this list? What strategies have you developed to manage the external requests for information?

About Carol Singer Neuvelt

Carol Singer Neuvelt is Executive Director of NAEM. Her long-term perspective and insights into corporate EHS and sustainability best practices also have been featured in a variety of publications, including The Chicago Tribune, the Bureau of National Affairs, Environmental Leader, the National Safety Council’s Safety+Health magazine and Sustainable Life Media. She is the former Deputy Director for the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Public Liaison, where she managed the agency’s interaction with external stakeholders. Follow her on Twitter at @carol_neuvelt.

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