Over Season 1’s three-plus hours of conversation, so many lessons emerged, but two themes in particular resurfaced repeatedly.
Whether disclosing their climate footprint or sharing concrete steps toward D&I, many companies have chosen to say little, if anything at all. Few companies have a spotless record across all ESG-related issues, and to talk about one initiative related to one letter, the thinking goes, is to invite criticism of the less-stellar areas. Many of my guests argued otherwise.. Charles King, head of IR for FTSE 100 firm Halma, encapsulated it well in Episode 2. “It’s very difficult to be perfect across all the environmental, social, and governance matters we’re looking at. But actually showing good intent, good progress, and setting out a clear plan, I think is the key.”
According to a study by EY, boards rate the threat of climate-change lower than investors and CEOs — meaning they’ll likely hear about it with growing frequency from both camps, in addition to the pressure they’re facing from customers, activists, and employees. “What is the definition of ‘fiduciary obligation’?” Karina Litvack, an independent, Non-Executive Director at Italian oil-and-gas giant Eni S.p.A, asked me in Episode 3. “Project yourselves five years into the future. You will not be able to argue then, that you didn’t know today, that climate change was going to be destructive to society, to the ecosystem, and to the business.” (And if directors needed another reason to take notice, Betsy Atkins, a three-time CEO and board member of Wynn Resorts and Volvo Cars warned in Episode 6 that she believes ESG will be “a Trojan horse” into the boardroom for activists).
Meanwhile, Janine Guillot, CEO of the headline-grabbing ESG reporting standards SASB, had a message in Episode 1 for IR professionals: “I can tell you, every firm that we deal with,” — which, by the way, are firms managing more than $40 trillion — “is really, really sincerely trying to figure out how to systematically integrate ESG across an entire investment platform. You may not be hearing ESG questions today, but you will in the future.”
I’d welcome your thoughts on what you enjoyed from Season 1, what you’d like to hear more of, and how we can make the ESG Agenda more useful.
Thanks for listening,