July 24, 2024

How organizations can best navigate the polarization & politicization of ESG

How organizations can best navigate the polarization & politicization of ESG

As the rhetoric all over ESG will become a lot more politicized and polarizing, how can firms make sure they continue to be centered on offering advantages to stakeholders?

One of the top three major problems for businesses in 2023 is how to de-politicize environmental, social & governance (ESG) problems, claims John Friedman, Taking care of Director of ESG & Sustainability at Grant Thornton, incorporating that the problem is getting felt across industries and sectors, and the lawful business is not immune.

In point, law organization leaders not too long ago have explained the sensitive dance that demands to be carried out when the company is representing shoppers that could be on opposing sides of an problem in issues that have nothing at all to do with each individual other. The new time period for these circumstances is corporate political accountability, which is when an firm can take a stance on particular topics that are occurring suitable now.

Gayatri Joshi, previous executive director of the Regulation Firm Sustainability Network and Companion at Vorgate Authorized ESG Impression, states she sees the force law firms and other lawful organizations are facing all over corporate political obligation expanding in 2023, citing the responses by several regulation companies in early 2022 to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as evidence that this force is now occurring.


A person head of sustainability at a legislation firm commented how some of its biggest shoppers are inquiring the company to concur with its community statements on an problem.


An additional factor of this is the stress that some regulation corporations are finding from their very own clients, which may favor that their suppliers to be on the identical side of an concern. A person head of sustainability at a law firm commented how some of its major consumers are asking the company to agree with its community statements on an challenge.

Continue to, yet another challenging ingredient is how to navigate potentially opposing sights between staff teams and shoppers. Activism amongst stakeholder groups is increasing for case in point, a legislation company could have a group of staff who are passionately advocating for the organization to lower its carbon footprint even though it is also representing a organization in the fossil fuel marketplace in a transactional make any difference.

No matter what the specific situation, force from stakeholders on alignment in values is raising and unlikely to transform course any time soon. Corporations need to be intelligent in how they answer, and many corporations are using these ideal-apply techniques to do so.

Greatest approaches to navigate politicization of ESG difficulties

Reframe ESG as part of small business efficiency — Make the circumstance that ESG boils down to good business. In many respects, depoliticizing ESG is an expanded SWOT investigation that seeks to widen the lens of organization chance and prospects.

In 2019, the Small business Roundtable, an association of chief government officers (CEOs) of America’s leading firms, re-outlined the purpose of a company in a general public statement signed by 181 CEOs indicating that company leaders really should be dedicated to operating their businesses in a way that gains all stakeholders, including shoppers, workers, suppliers, local communities, and shareholders.

This shift from shareholder benefit to stakeholder capitalism was significant for the reason that the statement expanded a corporation’s function further than shareholder primacy, a directive that experienced been all around given that the 1970s.

These days, stakeholder capitalism is analogous to ESG in quite a few ways. Certainly, ESG or sustainability may well be the name du jour, but fundamentally, enterprise measures of effectiveness, accomplishment, efficiency, and performance across stakeholder teams are perfectly proven and pretty consistent whether a company has a official ESG technique or not.

Make use of holistic stakeholder listening and align responses to corporate values — Recognize that the landscape and navigation of thorny issues will carry on and perhaps get even more precarious. The greatest way ahead is as a result of reliable listening with specific stakeholders.

“The assistance I give is to relate these problems on how it is going to have an affect on anyone and what the corresponding action approach is,” Joshi says. “If your client takes place to be on the reverse aspect of an problem, they can respect that you were being pursuing up directly to the stakeholder team that communicated that the concern was important.”


“Demagoguing is happening. But when you glimpse at the unique aspects in [ESG], it’s really difficult to essentially come across explanations why you should not guidance it.”


For example, one particular regulation organization leader lately shared how their business employed this tactic in the aftermath of the Dobbs conclusion, which effectively struck down abortion rights on a federal stage. The organization immediately was pushed by its young staff to choose a community stance. And while the firm did not consider a public stand on Dobbs, it did answer with authenticity to comments from a single of its crucial stakeholder teams — its more youthful expertise — in a myriad of strategies.

Should really a shopper have expressed dissatisfaction on the firm’s actions, the organization could then stage to how it’s aligning to its values as an employer that depends heavily on higher-top quality expertise. In that position, the organization seeks to deliver a society of treatment that actively listens to its employees. Even though a particular client may perhaps not concur with the firm’s actions, it can respect the fact that the legislation company listened and responded as part of its dedication to aid workforce and proceed to catch the attention of and retain key talent.

Drill down into the particulars — Polarization around ESG is authentic, and in many cases, it is blowback to progress. Inspecting a precise difficulty, this kind of as greenhouse gasoline reduction or corporate governance, inside of ESG can be an successful way by means of the murkiness. Certainly, there is standard acceptance of local climate danger and the need to have for diversity to make far better business efficiency.

“Demagoguing is occurring,” suggests R Mukund, CEO of Benchmark ESG. “But when you search at the particular person features in [ESG], it’s quite tough to essentially obtain explanations why you should not assist it.”