What is ESG? The standards every company should follow

Tiffany Tsui Jan 25, 2023
What is ESG and criteria in ESG frameworks

Have you heard of ESG, or ESG events? ESG, which stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance, is a set of criteria or principles to evaluate and demonstrate the sustainability performance of an organization. This new growing emphasis on ESG is taking the Asian business world by storm, possibly causing dramatic changes to the business landscape in the years to come. In this article, learn all you need to know about ESG - its trends, benefits for complying with ESG standards, how to measure your company’s ESG performance, and whether you should get ESG certified.

Check out our Fireside Chat With Event Professional on 16 February for the latest trends on ESG! 

 

What is ESG? What is an ESG event?

What is ESG and criteria in ESG frameworks

As introduced above, ESG metrics measure the organization’s performance on Environmental, Social and Governance aspects, showing their long-term sustainability. Alongside with the company’s financial report, Investors refer to a company’s ESG report to assess the feasibility of investment.

  • Environmental criteria consider an organization's contribution to environmental protection and management to their environmental risks

  • Social criteria address an organization's management of social relationships with employees, suppliers, customers and communities

  • Governance deals with an organization’s leadership, executive pay, audits, internal controls and shareholder rights

ESG events, on the other hand, are not events complying to ESG standards, but are events about sustainable businesses and ESG. Joined by leading professionals from COP26, Microsoft, Coca-cola and IKEA, examples include Sustainability Reporting & Communications Europe, Responsible Business Europe, Circularity and ESG Climate & Risk Summit. The abundance of ESG events precisely show the substantial interests of companies on incorporating sustainability into their businesses. 

 

Why does ESG matter?

1. The trend: an increasing emphasis on ESG

Coined in 2005, ESG is no new term. However, not until recently it has received increasing attention worldwide, especially in Asia. In Hong Kong, ESG-related financial professionals were added to the Talent List of Hong Kong in 2021. Shortly after, a new master-level programme specifically on ESG was opened, showing the immense and pressing need for ESG-related professionals in the market. In Singapore, ESG Impact Hub was launched by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in 2022 to facilitate ESG collaboration, showing ESG is being strongly advocated by the Singapore government. This growing emphasis on ESG brings in new risks as well as opportunities, hence businesses should be well-prepared to stay ahead of the game.

 

2. Risk: tightened ESG regulations

Tightened ESG regulations

Increased regulations are moving ESG disclosure into the risk and compliance field. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) launched the Climate and ESG Task Force to ‘develop initiatives to proactively identify ESG-related misconduct’, and SEC announced new ESG disclosure requirements in March 2021. Similarly in Europe, the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) announces an obligation for companies to disclose their ESG impacts regularly from fiscal year 2023 onwards. A few legal campaigns in Europe have been drafting plans for ESG-related compliances, such as Germany, who imposed due diligence and reporting obligations for potential human rights and environmental risks across company’s supply chains. 

These legislations in the West may cause a ripple effect across global businesses. In the Asian Pacific region, although ‘hard laws’ are not foreseen in the short-term, emission-related regulations, such as carbon tax would likely be the focus. With tightened and increased ESG-related regulations expected, demonstrating ESG credentials is no longer a nice thing to have, but an essential to relieve potential regulatory and legal pressures. When new regulations are introduced, you will be able to adapt at ease while others are left in a spin.

 

3. Opportunities: heightened ESG expectations

Heightened climate awareness and ESG expectations (Credit to: Pexel)

The public are more concerned about sustainability than ever before. For clients, 45% reported that they stopped purchasing certain products due to ethical and environmental concerns. For investors, 77% of institutional investors plan to stop buying non-ESG products by 2022, as revealed by a PwC survey of over 1000 investment professionals. Investors from the US and European countries are also looking for more ESG disclosures to help them evaluate the company’s long-term sustainability, which helps them to make well-informed investment decisions. Given the evidence for heightened ESG expectations from customers and investors, incorporating ESG into your business strategy demonstrates a mature and differentiated approach puts you ahead of the crowd.

 

4. ESG in the Event Industry

Do you still think ESG reporting is none of your business, only relevant to large corporations? In fact, sustainable events are forecasted to be one of the trends in 2023 - ‘we’re seeing a massive support for a sustainable shift in the event industry’, as stated by Mark Bannister, the Technical and Operations Director of COP26. The Event Industry Forecast 2022 also reported 97% of event planners believe that social responsibility will be an integral part of their future events. Learn more about 2023 event trends through our white paper

The forecasted regulations and awaiting business opportunities all suggest companies should act now to re-evaluate and step up their ESG performance - but how? In the sections below, we will provide some measures on evaluating your company’s ESG performance, and a step-by-step guide on what your company can do to meet ESG standards.

 

How is ESG measured? A list of ESG frameworks for reporting

An ESG reporting framework measures quantitative and/or qualitative data to track ESG progress and evaluate performance, meaning that it uses both numbers and descriptive text for ESG qualities, strategies, process and actions. Standardized frameworks for ESG allows investors to easily evaluate and compare viability and long-term performance across different companies, helping them to make informed investment decisions. The below presents some commonly-used ESG metrics and their characteristics, including UN Sustainable Development Goals, GRI, SASB, SDP and TCFD.

Commonly-used ESG frameworks

What is ESG? UN Sustainable Development Goals

UN SDGs: Being the most well-known framework, the UN Sustainable Development Goals is one that most of us have probably heard of. It consists of 17 sustainable goals to achieve by 2030, such as climate action, no poverty, quality education, reduced inequalities etc. Organizations often use the framework to show how their work contributes to the greater good.

GRI: The first and most widely used reporting framework, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is used by 73% of the largest 250 companies, according to 2020 KPMG Survey of Sustainability Reporting. GRI contains 3 categories: (1) universal standards for governance and business activities of all companies; (2) sector standards for specific industries; and (3) topic standards for specific material topics.

SASB: Contrary to GRI as a sector-overarching framework, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) is industry-specific and focuses on financial impacts of sustainability, which caters to the considerations of investors. It includes 77 sets of standards tailored to different industries. Due to a different focus, SASB is often used complementary to GRI, with 39% of companies using the two metrics together. 

CDP: Unlike the frameworks mentioned above, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) specifically identifies an organization’s climate impact and coping strategies. It is presented in the form of a questionnaire, with question prompts for disclosure on three main aspects: climate change, water resources and forests.

TCFD: The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) focuses on financial impacts of climate-related risks and opportunities. It provides a set of prompts and recommendations that guides companies to analyze cases and disclose their long-term strategies and risk management planning

Framework Mostly for... Area Industry Description
UN SDG government, companies ESG Overarching consists of 17 sustainable goals to achieve by 2030
GRI companies, investment ESG Overarching, Sector-specific contains 3 categories: universal standards, sector standards, topic standards
SASB companies, investments ESG Sector-specific includes 77 sets of standards tailored to different industries
CDP government, companies, investments Environmental - questionnaire on 3 main aspects: climate change, water resources and forests
TCFD companies Environmental - suggestions for long-term strategies and risk management planning

 

Specific Topics under ESG Framework

There are a tremendous number of specific measures under each of the three aspects of ESG that may be tedious to go through. The following is a list of some general topics that many industries would disclose in their report, adapted from the World Economic Forum (WEF) framework.

1. Environmental criteria

ESG Environmental (Credit to: Unsplash)

  • TCFD recommendations: climate-related risks and opportunities in the short to long term, and your process, strategies and targets to manage them

  • GHG emissions: amount of scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions

  • Land use: area and number of sites owned in/near protected areas

  • Energy efficiency: total energy consumption, percentage grid electricity and percentage of renewable energy used

  • Waste management: total amount of waste diverted from disposal

  • Water management: total water consumption in areas with water stress

  • Deforestation: hectres of land deforestated due to company's service, and possible incidences of deforestation across supply chains

 

2. Social criteria

ESG Social (Credit to: Unsplash)

  • Policies: description of company policies for human rights

  • Diversity & inclusion: percentage of employee by age group, gender and ethnicity

  • Pay equality: salary of men to women, major to minor ethnicity groups

  • Wage level: ratio of standard entry level wage compared to local minimum wage

  • Risks of child labour: possible incidents of child labour and solutions

  • Well-being and safety: number and rate of work-related death and injuries, major type of work-related injuries, number of working hours, work conditions, incidents of harassment and inhumane treatment

  • Skillset training: Average hours of training per employee, and average expenditure on training per employee

  • Customer satisfaction: customer satisfaction score, their feedback, and retention rate

  • Community relation and engagement: actions you have taken to bring positive impact to the community

 

3. Governance

ESG Goverance (Credit to: Unsplash)

  • Purpose: company’s stated purpose, ideally creating value for all stakeholders including shareholders

  • Board composition: the composition of the highest governing board and audit committee, their position and commitments, competencies towards economic, social and environmental topics, independence, representation of different stakeholders

  • Stakeholder engagement: a list of topics material to key stakeholders and how they are engaged

  • Anti-corruption: total percentage of different company stakeholders receiving anti-corruption policies and procedures, total number and nature of incidents of corruption confirmed, strategies to combat corruption (e.g. whistleblower schemes)

  • Reporting mechanisms: description of the mechanisms for seeking advice and reporting unethical or unlawful practices

Environmental Social Governance

- TCFD recommendations

- GHG emissions

- Land use

- Energy efficiency

- Waste management

- Water management

- deforestation

- Policies

- Diversity and inclusion

- Pay equality

- Wage level

- Risk of child labour

- Well-being and safety

- Skillset training

- Customer satisfaction

- Community relation and engagement

- Purpose

- Board composition

- Stakeholder engagement

- Anti-corruption

- Reporting mecahnisms

 

Your steps to measure your ESG performance

1. Acquire professional ESG knowledge

Acquire professional ESG knowledge through a third-party (Credit to: Unsplash)

Start by collecting data and reviewing your company’s ESG performance. If potential risks are identified, draft strategies to overcome those data. If your colleagues have no prior experience of ESG analyzing, it may be difficult to estimate the performance. There are THREE ways to help you acquire standardized data: 

  • Hire people with a relevant degree, and set up a panel for sustainability development at your company;

  • Hire a third-party to assess your company’s ESG performance and give you advice;

  • Study an ESG course or degree yourself to acquire professional knowledge.


2. Write an ESG report

Before writing the report, identify the material issues of your company, your intention and your audience, which may affect the standards and frameworks to include. You may use the frameworks, such as GRI and SASB introduced above to measure your ESG performance and section your report. Here are some principles and recommendations to follow:

  • Be reliable, verifiable, and objective: include quantitative data

  • Be specific: include details and examples, such as case studies, employed strategies for potential climate risks, examples of how you engage different stakeholders etc.

  • Be clear: use graphs, tables and bullet points, color-coding for clarity, within-document click-throughs for easy navigation

  • Be comparable among companies: refer to existing ESG reports in your industry and use standardized metrics

  • Be consistent: keep a template and stick with similar format and measures; information and your vision should not vary greatly over time

As a starting point, you may look through the details of the metrics introduced above and ESG reports from other companies, where you can get a gist of the content and format. Some of them include the Coca-Cola company’s ESG report, IKEA’s sustainability report, and Microsoft’s environmental sustainability report

 

3. Get certified (non-accredited)

ESG services offered by SGS

If you are confident of your company’s ESG performance, a further step is to get a certification to show your ESG commitment. A third-party such as the SGS can certify your dedication towards climate actions and social responsibilities after assessment through reviewing documents, interviews and site visits. Having a third-party for assessment avoids greenwashing and presents your company’s data as valid and objective. However, note that no existing certification schemes are officially recognized, but a certification would be an attractive marketing strategy to the environmentally and socially conscious.

 

Conclusion

ESG-related issues have become a major concern for companies in the 21st century. A lot of large companies, including Coca-cola, H&M Group, Google have already jumped on the bandwagon of ESG self-reporting, gaining more investor and customer support while allowing communities and the planet to thrive. Start considering your company’s ESG performance now by following the steps provided, examining popular ESG frameworks introduced.

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