In the last few years, businesses of all shapes and sizes have come to recognise the rising importance and impact of ESG. With the public and professional focus on Environment, Social and Governance factors rising, many organisations are choosing to double down on their strategic approach here – but what does success look like in terms of the key data points that your business should be measuring and reporting upon?
What Does ESG Success Look Like?
When any kind of proactive strategy is applied within a business, it’s essential that progress can be accurately measured. Without a clear overview of the performance and results that your ESG strategy is delivering, it can be hard to prove impact, or preserve momentum.
ESG success should be shown though clearly defined, predetermined metrics. ESG data matters because when it comes to deploying an impactful strategy, the proof really is in the pudding. After the negative associations and scepticism fostered by well-publicised incidents of greenwashing, today it's more important than ever for businesses to be able to point to clear evidence of positive impact.
When a business can confidently point to data-backed ESG success, they can enjoy more support across multiple aspects of their operation, ranging from improved investment opportunities through to enhanced public perception, positive employer branding and secure staff retention rates. According to recent research from YuLife and YouGov, less than 40% of people think their workplace has some sort of positive impact on society and the planet – there’s a lot of room for improvement (and a lot of opportunity for positive differentiation!)
So, how do we ensure that the data we’re recording when it comes to measuring ESG success is meaningful? The answer, as with any data set, comes from broader comparison, achieved via benchmarking. This represents something of a complication with the realm of ESG, as reporting is still in its relative infancy.
Standardised benchmarking is still a core concern, but can be difficult to reliably achieve, especially for SMEs who are less likely to be accountable for mandatory reporting of comparable metrics, such as carbon emissions.
However, some degree of benchmarking is essential if businesses are going to judge themselves (and be judged!) against others - and an important component in progress versus complacency. As a result, best practice dictates consistency in your methods of monitoring, reporting and collection, and a willingness to make your ESG data publicly available, to ensure that opportunities for comparison and standard-setting is maximised.
Get inspired by 10 brands who are doing particularly well in terms of “stand out” ESG performance in our recent article: Top 10 Sustainable Brands of 2022 - And What Your Business Can Learn From Them.
Now, let’s explore some of the metrics that you could consider measuring for ongoing ESG success…
Quantitative ESG metrics
The first data points to consider in your quest for ESG success are the quantitative metrics. These are the cornerstone of any strong ESG strategy, and a big contributor to the ability to effectively benchmark against other comparative businesses. As quantitative metrics, they’re easily measurable and able to be clearly demonstrated through data.
Quantitative ESG metrics comprise the numerical factors that strategies can commonly encompass. Ideally, these should include commonly tracked, standardised indicators such as Scope 1, 2 and 3 GHG emissions, which can help in terms of the comparison and benchmarking that we referenced earlier in the article.
When it comes to what’s measurable in a quantifiable way within your ESG strategy, the only limits are the limits you set yourself – everything from water consumption through to energy saving through efficiency measures can add valuable context to your ongoing ESG operations.
Of course, quantitative ESG metrics do not have to solely relate to the Environmental aspects of an ESG policy. While it’s easy to place a focus around the PR-friendly eco statistics that we’ve all become more accustomed to seeing in relation to a company’s ESG progression, it’s just as valid (and important) to encapsulate Social and Governance factors.
These are often played down, as they are commonly linked to more controversial issues that many businesses (even those putting a lot of hard work into improvement) may view their publication as inviting unwanted scrutiny or criticism. This might include factors such as diversity on your boards, evidence of a decreasing gender pay gap, or reducing wage disparity between staff and C Suite, but could also include less inflammatory aspects such as hours volunteered or products donated to charitable causes.
As more businesses opt to show progress over perfection, it can be hoped that a wider range of qualitative data points, across all aspects of ESG will be collected in years to come, allowing for the direct assessment of the overall ESG performance – either independently or in comparison to peers.
Qualitative ESG indicators
Qualitative factors can also contribute to robust ESG reporting. These will be indicators of attitude and intent when it comes to a company’s approach to ESG, and will help to paint a clear picture of how the company hopes it will perform with regard to the goals and standards that it sets for itself.
Qualitative ESG indicators might include aspects such as policies created around equality within the workplace, hiring strategy, how closely aligned with the UN’s SDGs a business is, and the way that it holds its supply chain partners accountable to standards it sets and maintains.
Although qualitative indicators may not be shown as clearly as quantitative factors in terms of data values, they can be every bit as important as the numerical aspects of your ESG reporting – essential, working in tandem to paint a 360 degree view of your business and where it stands with regard to its ESG intentions.
Sector Specific Data Points
When attempting to quantify your ESG progress and ultimate success, it is also important to remain mindful of your business’ sector, and the specific implications that this might have with regard to your ESG rating.
Why is this important? Because for some industries, certain ESG factors are particularly pertinent. For example, industries that carry a high risk to employees safety (such as construction) or environmental cost (such as mining) will need to place a more pronounced focus on certain elements of ESG, in order to ensure that they are correctly mitigating potential issues.
Sector-specific ESG strategy is also important when it comes to assessment by investors, who might have a specific portfolio focus that has led to them becoming experienced in the ESG initiatives and strategies commonly used within that industry.
Internal Targets And Future Goals
Another vitally important consideration when seeking to measure your ESG success is dependable ability to keep track of key data points via internal targets and future goals. Your ESG reviewing and reporting process should be one that is subject to a constant review system.
Cadence of review, for example, is something that should be carefully considered. Whether you will make the assessment of your ESG strategy’s impact an annual event, or review it more frequently, can have a significant influence on the way it evolves over time.
Businesses which commit to a more regular appraisal of their progress have the advantage of enhanced responsiveness, enhancing their ability to change internal targets where appropriate and accelerate their success more quickly thanks to proactive finetuning of their strategy. Ask yourself how much more progress you could be pushing yourself to achieve if you reviewed your ESG data on a more frequent basis…
The Future of Successful ESG Reporting
What does the future of ESG reporting look like? One thing is for sure, as the importance of ESG continues to rise, and as more mandatory reporting is introduced, the burden of data collection, storage and interpretation surrounding ESG will rise.
Whether this burden represents a light or heavy load will largely depend on a business’ willingness to digital transform the processes involved in ESG reporting. Digital transformation is set to play a significant role in allowing businesses more clarity over their ESG progress, and can also to establish a system of measurement that can bring quantitative and qualitative aspects into consideration over time.
KindLink offers a multi-faceted solution to the collection and reporting of ESG, offering the ideal solution for businesses looking for a solution that has the power to scale with them over time as their business and ESG ambitions grow.
Measure And Grow Your ESG Success With KindLink
ESG is no longer something businesses can leave to chance. Whether data collection is mandated or voluntary, the benefits for people, planet and profit are clear – and growing every day.
A great ESG strategy, which is appropriately monitored, reviewed and enhanced regularly over time, will bring true competitive advantage in the months and years to come. Without a dependable data collection and reporting system in place, so much of this potential is at risk of being left on the table.