19th Mar 2023
3 Min Read

What does the 'E' in ESG stand for?

People & Change

Our environment and sustainability expert Harry Grout unpacks ESG policies and the actions communicators can take to make them real for their people.

Climate anxiety is real. Your people, your co-workers and your clients are worried about the future. But here’s the catch; they’re acting on it – and they want you to.

“Organisations talk about grand plans and big targets, but we’ve always avoided the tangible things – the daily actions we all make to change the future of our planet,” explains consultant Harry Grout.

This is just one of the reasons environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies and practices are occupying the limelight in the workplace. When put into action, they can create real change – tackling some of the hottest issues the planet is facing.

So what exactly is ESG? How does the environment come into it and how can you nail your ESG communications? Let’s answer those burning questions.

What is ESG?

ESG refers to a set of frameworks and policies that highlight key issues you’re looking to tackle, the progress you’ve made so far and what success looks like in the future in the areas of environment, social and governance. It’s an ongoing journey that covers everything from recycling targets and how you’re protecting the environment, to your diversity and inclusion efforts or hiring processes. ESG is everywhere.

But ESG policies don’t just lay out a plan, they’re a way of making sure your stakeholders know you’re serious about acting. And the most important stakeholder that needs to understand your efforts? Your people.

“Companies put emissions and operations first; but you need people supporting your efforts to make them a reality,” explains Harry. “Employees are part of the solution; they need to be on board. Get your narrative clear so your people believe in your efforts.”

ESG … how does the environment come into it?

A core part of any ESG strategy outlines your action on environmental issues and defines the impact you’ll have on the world around you. This covers:

  • Emissions (that’s your net zero policy)
  • Sustainability
  • Energy use
  • Waste
  • Water protection
  • Air pollution.

These are just a few areas in which you can act to limit the negative impact your organisation has on the environment. But it’s not all about ambitious targets – it can be as simple as your recycling policy or a cycle-to-work scheme. These aren’t empty gestures.

Harry adds: “It’s about connecting the dots for people so they discover sustainable, nature-based solutions. We don’t have all the answers, but your people are smart enough to realise that planting a tree to offset carbon just isn’t enough.”

Climate quitters

If you want to attract and retain the best talent, inaction is not an option: it erodes trust, but could drive potential talent away, too. When hunting down a new role, 20 per cent of people – dubbed ‘climate quitters’ – have turned down a job offer when the company’s ESG commitments were not in line with their own values.

And it’s not just about the finding and retaining employees or performance at work. It’s about building a future. This is something you have to be all in on; it affects everyone.

Climate change isn’t 5,000 miles away anymore,” continues Harry. “It’s no longer just about polar bears and ice caps. It’s on your doorstep – and that means many are driven to act, because it’s now about protecting your own backyard.”

Communicating your environmental efforts

What your people really want to see is a genuine effort towards making your ESG goals a reality – while making a positive, lasting impact on the world. Sign them up to your events, share your ambitions and tell those stories in new and exciting ways.

If you’re struggling to communicate your ESG plans to your people, here are five ways to supercharge your efforts.

  1. It takes belief: People care about what you’re doing, sure, but they need a reason to believe in why you’re doing it. Help your people believe that the journey your business is on is the right one and that your purpose aligns with their personal values.
  1. Keep it local: People also care more when action feels on their doorstep: that it affects their colleagues, their friends and their families. Nurture your smaller communities as much as your headquartered cities.
  1. Be a solutionist: Encourage your people to be solutionists. You may have grand plans and high targets, but how can they drive change personally? Empower them to feel like they can make a difference.
  1. Don’t make it glossy: Make it real. Real people, real things and achievable targets. How will your actions affect people now and what does that look like? If it’s gritty, grimy or based out in the field or frontline, even better.
  1. Celebrate progress: Sure, progress looks good in a report to stakeholders, but that’s not where it matters most. Your people are the ones driving change and making the effort. They deserve to see their progress, every step of the way. Elevate their efforts regularly; mark those milestones.

Harry adds: “People want to see your commitment to the world we live in. They want to see companies be brave, be bold and local in their efforts. So here’s your challenge: to act on your ESG, to communicate those actions in new and exciting ways, tell stories – big and small – and to make sure every employee is on board for the journey. Are you ready?”

Get the guide

Want to learn more about how to communicate your ESG initiatives? Download our free guide.

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