As ESG goes mainstream, we explore what’s behind those three letters

By Joe Kornik
July 2022

IN BRIEF

  • ESG has evolved from a “should do” to a “must do” as companies recognize it is essential to surviving in the marketplace.
  • The environmental piece is top of mind for most, and climate change remains the burning platform that drives much of the agenda. But social, and its ability to win hearts and minds, and governance, which holds critical reporting, are both gaining steam.
  • The sharpening focus on ESG will likely be transformative as the discipline is integrated with strategy and performance management.

Sustainability strategist, author and globally recognized expert on megatrends, Andrew Winston, says sustainable business went mainstream in 2021 as companies embraced sustainability in new ways.

While there’s no reason to doubt the accuracy of his statement—Winston is, after all, one of the most respected thinkers on sustainability in the world—it depends on one’s definition of “mainstream,” I suppose. Of course, the definition of sustainability changes quite a bit too, depending on the source. What it means to be a sustainable business today is increasingly captured by the acronym, ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance). It’s the acronym to which we dedicate our theme—exploring the Future of ESG.


ABOUT

Joe Kornik
Editor-in-Chief
VISION by Protiviti

Joe Kornik is Director of Brand Publishing and Editor-in-Chief of VISION by Protiviti, a content resource focused on the future of global megatrends and how they’ll impact business, industries, communities and people in 2030 and beyond. Joe is an experienced editor, writer, moderator, speaker and brand builder. Prior to leading VISION by Protiviti, Joe was the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Consulting magazine. Previously, he was chief editor of several professional services publications at Bloomberg BNA, the Nielsen Company and Reed Elsevier. He holds a degree in Journalism/English from James Madison University.

Protiviti has been thinking about sustainability and ESG solutions to help future-proof organizations for quite some time. And I suspect most businesses were thinking about sustainable business before 2021. ESG, in some way, shape or form, has been around for a long time. More commonly known as “corporate social responsibility” before, ESG has evolved from a “should do” to a “must do” as companies recognize that doing right by people and the environment and practicing good governance are essential to surviving in the marketplace.

And that’s what, I think, Winston was talking about: The recognition that ESG is table stakes, strategic and central to almost every endeavor undertaken by a business. It will only be more so in the future. But for business leaders today, how to build, implement, execute, monitor, measure and report on ESG is no small task. Perhaps that is why not everyone is on the ESG train. Laggards in the form of skeptics, lip servers and, unfortunately, greenwashers remain in the marketplace.

Turns out, it's not so easy being green. 

Business leaders are struggling to figure out how to maximize performance and have a positive impact on people, processes, and the planet. What happens now that the E-S-Genie is out of the bottle?

With that question as a starting point, VISION by Protiviti embarks on an ambitious project to explore the Future of ESG. Featuring interviews and insights by experts from around the globe, VISION by Protiviti puts ESG and sustainability under the microscope to examine the impact they will have on global business—and the world in which it operates—in 2030 and beyond.

Clearly, the environmental piece is top of mind for most, and climate change remains the burning platform that drives much of the agenda, with “decarbonization,” “net zero” and “net negative” being boardroom and C-suite buzzwords these days. But social, and its ability to win hearts and minds, and governance, which holds critical reporting, are gaining steam. Governance is particularly important among ESG investors, who are flooding the marketplace with fresh capital. They seek green investing opportunities and want the unvarnished version of the truth. And regulators want them to get it.

Business leaders are struggling to figure out how to maximize performance and have a positive impact on people, process, and the planet. 

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image of solar panels in a grass field

One thing is universally agreed upon—the E, S and G are individually important and equally essential. Helping make sense of the interconnectivity of it all, the aforementioned Andrew Winston sits down with me to discuss how business leaders can ensure “the world is better off because [their] business is in it.” Mauro Guillen, Dean of Cambridge’s Judge Business School and author of 2030: How Today’s Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything, offers his take on the business of sustainability and the sustainability of business. The bottom line: The sharpening focus on ESG will likely be transformative as the discipline is integrated with strategy and performance management.

In addition, we take a deeper look at Scope 3 and dissect “data obesity” with Shy Murildharan, Worldwide Energy Solutions Lead at Amazon Web Services, assess Indonesian air quality with Piotr Jakubowski, founder of Nafas, and talk ESG investment with Gerald Walker, CEO of ING Americas.

I mentioned Protiviti’s been thinking about ESG for quite some time. Protiviti’s Chris Wright, the firm’s global lead for ESG services, lays out how to improve ESG realities for the planet, one firm at a time. Bob Hirth, a Protiviti senior managing director and former Vice Chair of the U.S. Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, catches up with Morgan Stanley’s Carla Harris on ESG’s future, while Protiviti’s David Petrucci speaks sustainability solutions and net zero with Microsoft’s Alex Robart. I also discuss related topics with Stephanie Dolmat, Senior Director, ESG, for Robert Half, Protiviti’s parent company.

And as VISION continues to add content over the next several months, expect plenty more sustainability insights from Protiviti professionals and external experts, including global ESG data and country ratings from the Economist Intelligence Unit and our exclusive C-level research on the Future of ESG conducted with the University of Oxford. And much, much more.

In all, VISION by Protiviti will publish more than 30 pieces of content offering unique insights and perspectives from global leaders about the future of ESG. We will also host a webinar, "VISION 2030: The Future of ESG and the Strategy of Sustainable Business,” on Thursday, August 4 at 2 p.m. U.S. Eastern (6 p.m. GMT) that you will not want to miss. Finally, a VISION by Protiviti in-person event focused on the future of ESG is coming this fall. Stay tuned to these events and more by subscribing to our newsletter.

sustainable business went mainstream in 2021 as companies embraced sustainability in new ways.

– Andrew Winston, megatrends expert

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