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ESG vs CSR vs Sustainability (EXPLAINED)

These terms are often confused or used as buzzwords.  They are critically important in today’s business climate, but they are not well understood.

There is a strong argument, which I use often, that says ESG, CSR and Sustainability are just different sides of the same coin and they are all about value.

But, read on and see how more traditional wisdom views the differences and nuances. The critical thing to remember, is that if they aren’t creating value for you and your business, you should rethink your strategy and implementation. They are all about aligning and optimizing value

What is ESG?

ESG, which stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance, represents a comprehensive framework used to evaluate a company’s performance and impact across these three key areas. ESG factors go beyond traditional financial metrics and provide insights into a company’s commitment to ethical practices, sustainability, and social responsibility.

Its importance in terms of financing is growing rapidly and companies raising capital can ill afford to ignore it. But, they should avoid simply doing what is necessary to achieve required compliance and instead look at how it can create meaning business value.

Top ESG Companies: Companies Embracing ESG:Numerous companies are recognizing the importance of ESG principles and incorporating them into their operations. Here are a few notable examples:
Apple Inc.: Apple has been at the forefront of sustainability efforts, aiming to make its supply chain and products more environmentally friendly. The company has committed to using 100%renewable energy for its operations and reducing its carbon footprint.
Unilever: Unilever is known for its sustainable business practices, focusing on reducing its environmental impact and promoting social responsibility. The company’s Sustainable Living Plan emphasizes goals like reducing waste and improving the well-being of its employees.
Microsoft: Microsoft has made significant strides in reducing its carbon footprint and has set ambitious goals to be carbon negative by 2030. The company also focuses on ethical use of technology and diversity and inclusion in its workforce.
Patagonia: This outdoor clothing company is renowned for its strong environmental stance. Patagonia not only produces sustainable products but also donates a percentage of its sales to environmental causes.
Salesforce: Salesforce places emphasis on social responsibility and equality. The company invests in education, supports underprivileged communities, and promotes gender equality in the tech industry.
Nestlé: Nestlé has committed to achieving zero environmental impact across its operations by 2030. The company aims to reduce waste, promote sustainable sourcing, and improve the nutritional quality of its products.
These companies and many others are embracing ESG principles as part of their core values and business strategies. By using ESG practices, they help to create a more sustainable and responsible world. They also position themselves for long-term success in an +hanging business landscape.

Top CSR Companies: Companies with Strong CSR:

Several companies have demonstrated a strong commitment to CSR, making it an integral part of their business strategies. Here are a few examples:

The Coca-Cola Company: Coca-Cola focuses on water stewardship, sustainable packaging, and community engagement. The company is actively working to replenish water resources and has committed to making its packaging 100% recyclable by 2025.

IKEA: IKEA is known for its commitment to sustainability. The company aims to use 100% renewable energy and achieve circularity in its operations, including using sustainable materials and promoting recycling.

Toyota: Toyota emphasizes environmental responsibility by promoting hybrid and electric vehicles and working towards a zero-emission future. The company also invests in local communities and education.

Procter & Gamble (P&G): P&G has sustainability goals to reduce its environmental footprint, improve water efficiency, and create products with less environmental impact. The company also runs various community programs globally

Ben & Jerry’s: This ice cream company incorporates social justice and environmental sustainability into its business model. Ben & Jerry’s supports various social and environmental causes through its products and advocacy.

Google (Alphabet Inc.): Google is committed to using renewable energy for its operations and has invested in initiatives to promote renewable energy adoption globally. The company also supports education and technology access.

These companies showcase the diverse ways in which CSR can be integrated into business strategies. Their commitment to responsible practices not only contributes to positive social and environmental impact but also enhances their reputation and long-term sustainability.


Top Sustainability Companies: Companies Prioritizing Sustainability:

Several companies have made sustainability a core focus of their operations, demonstrating a commitment to responsible business practices. Here are a few examples:

Tesla: Tesla is a leader in sustainable transportation, producing electric vehicles (EVs) that significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The company’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.

Unilever: Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan encompasses environmental and social goals. The company aims to reduce its environmental impact, improve health and well-being, and promote fair labor practices throughout its supply chain.

Danone: Danone aims to achieve carbon neutrality and regenerative agriculture across its operations. The company’s “One Planet. One Health” initiative focuses on sustainable sourcing and improving public health.

Patagonia: Patagonia is known for its dedication to environmental conservation. The company produces durable outdoor clothing and promotes the repair and recycling of its products to minimize waste.

Natura & Co: Natura & Co, a cosmetics company, emphasizes ethical sourcing of ingredients and sustainable packaging. The company also prioritizes social inclusion and has a strong commitment to biodiversity.

Etsy: Etsy is committed to promoting ethical and sustainable consumption. The company provides a platform for artisans and sellers of sustainable, handmade, and vintage products.

These companies exemplify how sustainability can be integrated into various industries and operations.

By prioritizing sustainability, they not only contribute to positive social and environmental outcomes but also position themselves as leaders in a more responsible and resilient business landscape.


Is ESG the same as Sustainability?

While ESG and sustainability are related, they are not the same. ESG focuses on specific performance indicators and factors that investors assess, while sustainability is a holistic concept that encompasses a company’s overall impact on the environment, society, and the economy.



How is ESG better than CSR?

ESG and CSR serve different purposes. ESG is often seen as a more structured and measurable approach, with specific metrics and indicators that provide investors with insights into a company’s risk management and performance.

CSR, on the other hand, is a broader concept that encompasses a company’s ethical practices, social contributions, and commitment to societal and environmental well-being.

Can CSR and ESG be used interchangeably?

No, CSR and ESG are not interchangeable. While both concepts relate to a company’s commitment to ethical and responsible practices, they have different focuses. CSR often includes philanthropy, community engagement, and social initiatives, while ESG emphasizes measurable factors related to environmental impact, social performance, and governance practices.

When did ESG replace CSR?

ESG did not replace CSR; rather, it evolved as a more specific and measurable approach to evaluating a company’s sustainability performance.

ESG gained prominence as investors sought to assess a company’s non-financial risks and opportunities, leading to a more focused evaluation of environmental, social, and governance factors. CSR remains a broader concept that encompasses a company’s broader societal responsibilities and contributions.

Conclusion: How ESG, CSR, and Sustainability Differ

In the landscape of responsible business practices, the terms ESG, CSR, and sustainability stand as distinct yet interconnected concepts, each contributing to a more conscientious and ethical business world.

ESG, or Environmental, Social, and Governance, zeroes in on specific measurable factors that investors scrutinize when evaluating a company’s performance and resilience. It’s a lens through which financial viability aligns with ethical practices, environmental stewardship, and transparent governance.

CSR, or Corporate Social Responsibility, encompasses a broader ethos of voluntary contributions to society, beyond profit-driven motives. It embodies a commitment to ethical behavior, philanthropy, and community engagement, reflecting a company’s dedication to being a responsible corporate citizen.

Sustainability, however, casts the widest net, enveloping environmental, social, and economic dimensions. It encapsulates the holistic pursuit of balance between current needs and future generations’ well-being. Sustainability integrates responsible resource management, social equity, and economic viability to create a harmonious and enduring path forward.

While ESG hones in on specific performance metrics crucial for investors, CSR channels a company’s ethical principles into actions that benefit society, and sustainability ensures a balanced and prosperous world for all.


Prof. Wayne Dunn

Wayne Dunn is an award-winning global sustainability expert with extensive teaching, writing, lecturing and advisory service experience. He is supported by an extensive faculty and advisory team.