Knowledge Centre

What Is Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG)?

On one level ESG is another acronym joining an alphabet soup of words and letters used to describe corporate sustainability.  But, on another level, ESG may be the one acronym that has done more to broaden corporate engagement in and attention to Sustainability than any other.  The reason is simple – ESG grabbed the corporate world where it notices, right by the finances.

Some estimates put ESG related capital at over 35% of all capital pools and others estimate that at least 85% of fund managers are using some sort of ESG related screen on investments.

This didn’t happen because the finance industry woke up one morning and decided it had an imperative to make the world more socially just and environmentally sustainable.  Not by a long shot.

The finance industry, and savvy C-Suite leaders realized that corporate performance on Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) dimensions could reduce risks and create opportunities for corporations practicing these principles.  As well, many take it as a proxy for good management, believing that companies that aren’t proactively managing ESG issues could well be missing other important issues as well.

Regardless of how it all happened, the rise of ESG in the corporate world is generally a good thing for people and the planet.

Of course, truth-be-known, not all companies talking, reporting and practicing ESG and sustainability are doing it well.  Many are treating it more like a zero-sum transfer of value, a charitable agenda that can help them expand financing options and make them look good at the same time. For more on this see – Sustainability is not a Charity Agenda

But, wise leaders, are recognizing that a strategic, corporate-wide approach to ESG can create meaningful value on many dimentions. For more on this see Impact Sustainability

What Is ESG in Simple Terms?

In simple terms, ESG refers to a set of criteria that investors and companies use to evaluate the environmental, social, and governance aspects of a business. These factors provide a framework for assessing the broader impact and sustainability of an organization beyond just financial performance. “ESG” stands for “Environmental, Social, and Governance,” and each of these components carries specific considerations.

Environmental factors encompass a company’s practices in relation to issues like carbon emissions, resource usage, environmental conservation and general efficiency at using the planets Natural Capital.

Social aspects delve into how a company interacts with its employees, communities, and stakeholders, focusing on issues such as diversity, labor practices, and community engagement.  In short, how it creates (or destroys) social value.

Governance pertains to a company’s internal structure, leadership quality, diversity, inclusion and transparency in decision-making.

In essence, ESG encapsulates a more holistic perspective on evaluating business practices, highlighting the importance of responsible and ethical operations in today’s interconnected and conscientious world.

ESG, standing for Environmental, Social, and Governance, represents a multi-dimensional framework that has gained significant traction in the realm of investing and corporate decision-making. These three pillars offer a comprehensive lens through which the holistic impact and sustainability of a company can be assessed.

Environmental (E)

The first pillar, environmental considerations, zeroes in on a company’s interactions with the natural world. This involves scrutinizing the organization’s carbon footprint, waste management practices, resource consumption, and efforts towards environmental conservation.

Companies committed to environmental sustainability often seek to minimize their negative impact on the planet by adopting practices like reducing emissions, embracing renewable energy sources, and implementing efficient waste reduction strategies. Such actions not only align with global environmental goals but also enhance long-term resilience against environmental risks.

Social (S)

The second pillar, social factors, delves into how a company manages its relationships with various stakeholders. This includes evaluating labor practices, diversity and inclusion efforts, community engagement, and overall societal contributions.

Businesses with strong social standing prioritize fair treatment of employees, promote diversity across all levels, engage responsibly with local communities, and uphold human rights within their operations and supply chains. These endeavors not only foster positive public perception but also foster stronger bonds with employees, customers, and communities, ultimately bolstering business stability.

Governance (G)

The third pillar, governance, focuses on the internal structure and practices that guide a company’s decision-making processes. It encompasses elements such as board composition, executive compensation, transparency, and overall management quality. Effective governance ensures that a company operates ethically, mitigates conflicts of interest, and maintains accountability to its stakeholders.

It also includes diversity, gender, inclusiveness and other issues that have proven to be valuable in and of their own right. Transparent governance practices build investor trust, safeguard against corporate scandals, and provide a solid foundation for long-term growth.

As ESG considerations continue to shape the landscape of responsible business practices, companies that prioritize these pillars are better positioned to thrive in an evolving global economy.

What Does ESG Mean for a Business?

Integrating ESG principles into their operations goes beyond financial performance, impacting reputation, resilience, and long-term viability.

Pros of ESG Investing:

Enhanced Reputation and Brand Value: Embracing ESG practices can bolster a company’s reputation as a responsible corporate citizen. Demonstrating commitment to environmental stewardship, social responsibility, and ethical governance resonates with consumers, investors, and employees, potentially attracting loyal stakeholders and boosting brand loyalty.

Access to Responsible Capital: The ESG movement has prompted a surge in investment funds and institutions that prioritize companies with strong ESG profiles. Businesses aligned with ESG principles may find it easier to access capital from these sources, enabling expansion, innovation, and sustainable growth.

Risk Mitigation: By addressing ESG issues, businesses can identify and manage potential risks more effectively. Proactively managing environmental and social risks, such as regulatory non-compliance or supply chain disruptions, can protect a company from financial and reputational damage.

Innovation and Efficiency: ESG considerations can drive innovation by pushing companies to develop environmentally friendly products, streamline operations to reduce waste, and explore sustainable business models. This can lead to cost savings and increased operational efficiency.

Cons of ESG Investing:

Implementation Costs: Integrating ESG practices might require significant investments in technology, training, and process restructuring. While these efforts can yield long-term benefits, the initial costs could strain a business’s financial resources.

These can be mitigated with strategic planning and a pragmatic, value-centric approach

Complexity and Reporting Burden: Tracking and reporting ESG metrics can be intricate, necessitating additional administrative work. Businesses might face challenges in standardizing and accurately reporting their ESG efforts, leading to potential scrutiny from stakeholders and regulators.

Again, strategic approaches to this can reduce complexity and often build on existing reporting, adding overall value.

Short-Term Sacrifice for Long-Term Gain: ESG initiatives may not yield immediate financial rewards, potentially impacting short-term profitability. Businesses could find themselves making trade-offs between short-term financial goals and long-term ESG commitments.

Lack of Standardization: The lack of standardized ESG metrics and reporting frameworks can create confusion among investors, making it challenging to compare companies’ ESG performance accurately. This lack of clarity can undermine the credibility of ESG ratings and rankings.

What Are Examples of ESG?

Here are some specific examples within each of the three pillars of ESG:


Carbon Emissions Reduction: Companies may set targets to reduce their carbon emissions, transition to renewable energy sources, and implement energy-efficient practices to mitigate their environmental impact.

Waste Management: Implementing effective waste reduction and recycling programs to minimize the amount of waste sent to landfills and promote a circular economy.

Water Conservation: Initiatives to reduce water usage, manage water scarcity risks, and protect local water resources through responsible consumption and conservation practices.


Social Impact: Strategically creating value for local communities and stakeholders as an integral part of business operations.

Labor Practices: Ensuring fair wages, safe working conditions, and respecting workers’ rights, both within a company’s operations and throughout its supply chain.

Human Rights: Ensuring that a company’s activities do not contribute to human rights abuses, and taking measures to prevent forced labor and other unethical practices.


Board Diversity: Ensuring diversity on the company’s board of directors to bring a variety of perspectives and skills to decision-making processes.

Transparency and Accountability: Providing clear and comprehensive financial and non-financial reporting to stakeholders, promoting transparency in decision-making, and holding leadership accountable for their actions.

Anti-Corruption Measures: Implementing strong anti-corruption policies and practices to prevent bribery, unethical conduct, and conflicts of interest.

Diversity and Inclusion: Companies can promote diversity in their workforce, leadership positions, and across all levels of the organization to foster an inclusive and equitable environment.

These examples showcase the breadth of ESG factors that companies can address to create a positive impact on the environment, society, and their own governance practices. Integrating these considerations into business strategies can lead to sustainable growth, enhanced stakeholder relationships, and a more resilient and responsible business model.

Does ESG Need to be Formal & Structured?

Going by the complexity with which many discuss ESG activities and reporting, it would be easy to assume that there is some complex framework that “Proper” ESG must adhere to.  Both in the actual doing of it and the reporting of it.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  In the paragraphs that follow we will discuss some of the more formal approaches to ESG execution, scoring and reporting, but rest assured, ESG success does not require that level of formality.

At its most basic level, ESG performance relates to a firm’s performance on Environmental, Social and Governance dimensions as noted above.

Implementing a complex scoring and reporting framework isn’t necessary to realize many of the benefits of ESG performance.  Indeed, the perception that complexity is necessary is off-putting to many leaders and companies and ends up discouraging them.

Many are actually doing a lot already that easily fit into an ESG framework, but they lose value from it because of the common perception that if it isn’t reported on and scored in certain ways it isn’t real ESG.

Breaking through this perception myth would go a long way to democratizing the ESG framework and achieving more ESG acceptance and impact.

What Is an ESG Score?

An ESG score is a quantified representation of a company’s performance and commitment to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors. It serves as a numerical indicator of how well a company aligns with sustainable and responsible business practices. ESG scores are used by investors, stakeholders, and analysts to evaluate a company’s overall ESG performance and compare it to peers within the same industry or sector.

However, the reality is that there really isn’t a standardized approach to calculating an ESG Score.  For the most part the organization or firm that assigns scores arbitrarily create their own framework and inhibit comparison of scores across different ESG scoring mechanisms.

How Are ESG Scores Calculated?

ESG scores are typically calculated through a combination of data analysis, benchmarking, and rating methodologies. While the exact calculation methods can vary among rating agencies and institutions, they generally involve:

Data Collection: Gathering data from various sources, including company reports, public disclosures, and third-party databases, to assess a wide range of ESG criteria.

Scoring Metrics: Assigning weights to different ESG factors based on their perceived importance. For example, environmental criteria like carbon emissions might carry different weights than governance criteria like board diversity.

Data Normalization: Standardizing data to facilitate meaningful comparisons among companies of varying sizes and industries.

Relative Assessment: Benchmarking a company’s performance against its industry peers to determine how it ranks in comparison to others.

Aggregation: Aggregating individual scores across various ESG factors to generate an overall ESG score.

Reporting: Presenting the ESG score along with detailed information about the company’s performance in each ESG category.

Why Are ESG Reports Important?

ESG reports play a vital role in the modern business landscape for several reasons:

Transparency: ESG reports offer transparency into a company’s operations and practices related to sustainability and responsibility, allowing stakeholders to make informed decisions.

Risk Management: ESG reports help identify and manage potential risks associated with environmental and social issues, enabling companies to proactively address vulnerabilities.

Investor Decision-Making: Investors increasingly consider ESG factors when making investment decisions. ESG reports provide valuable insights for investors seeking to align their portfolios with their values and risk preferences.

Stakeholder Engagement: ESG reports facilitate effective communication with stakeholders, including customers, employees, regulators, and communities, by demonstrating a company’s commitment to positive impact.

Competitive Advantage: Companies with strong ESG performance can gain a competitive edge by attracting responsible investors, customers, and talent who prioritize sustainability.

Long-Term Sustainability: Focusing on ESG factors helps businesses align their strategies with long-term sustainability, contributing to their resilience and success in an evolving global landscape.

However, ESG reports need not be so complex.  Companies need to recognize that simplicity can pay valuable dividends and enable an effective start on an ESG reporting journey.

While many may scoff at it, simply making an organized list of policies, activities and impacts that relate to Environment, Social and Governance can form the basis for an acceptable ESG Report.


What Exactly Is Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG)?

ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) is a comprehensive framework that evaluates a company’s impact on the environment, society, and internal governance practices. Environmental factors address issues like emissions and resource use, social factors involve relationships with employees and communities, and governance focuses on ethics and transparency.

ESG scores quantify a company’s ESG performance, aiding decision-making. ESG reports offer transparency, risk management, and competitive advantages. ESG represents a shift towards responsible business, considering broader impacts beyond financials, fostering sustainability and positive societal contributions.

ESG is often made overly complex and difficult than necessary.  At its most basic level, ESG is simply about how a company performs on Environmental, Social and Governance Dimensions.

ESG, Sustainability & CSR should be as much a business value driver as it is a social and environmental value driver. If it gets out of balance it creates risk and makes the sustainability and indeed, even the business itself, potentially less sustainable.

Business is about creating value. CSR, ESG and Sustainability are also about creating value; value for society, for environment and for shareholders.

Thanks for reading

Prof. Wayne Dunn

President & Founder

CSR Training Institute



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.