Why Communicators Need To Know How ESG Really Works 

September 28, 2023


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When I first started working in PR and communications, I wrote press releases, managed media conferences, coordinated interviews for clients, handled events, and did a lot of other core PR exercises. The one thing I was never taught: WHY I was writing press releases, managing media conferences, coordinating interviews, and handling events, and HOW it could contribute to a bigger picture.

Today, my role in strategic communications demands that I answer the imperative question of why we do what we do, how it impacts end users,  stakeholders, as well as the world that we exist in. It requires me to deeply understand a myriad of issues, complexities and dynamic subjects today – like ESG. 

In this age, communicators are no longer an organisation’s mouthpiece for marketing activities. We are strategic partners in shaping an organisation’s vision, aspirations and goals. As the driving force behind the voice of an organisation, communicators must now grasp the intricacies and significance of ESG, and not just from a brand and marketing viewpoint. Understanding ESG is no longer an option, it is a requirement for communicators navigating this evolving landscape. 

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

1. We Can’t Afford To Not Care About ESG

One of the most compelling reasons why communicators must be well-versed in ESG is because it matters. That’s it. That’s the point.

We can no longer pretend that all is well in the world, and business can afford to continue as usual. From a fundamental perspective, ESG strategies address pressing global challenges, promote responsible practices, and contribute to a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient future.

2. ESG Impacts Brand Image And Trust

ESG factors reflect an organisation’s commitment to responsible business practices and sustainability, which by extension impacts its reputation and brand image. When communicators understand these factors and effectively convey an organisation’s ESG initiatives and performance honestly, they can help build trust with stakeholders. This trust extends to investors, customers, employees, and the general public, fostering a positive perception of the organisation. On the flip side, mishandling and/or greenwashing ESG issues can lead to reputational damage that may take years to repair.

3. Understanding ESG Can Enhance Stakeholder Engagement Initiatives

Effective communication involves engaging diverse stakeholders and tailoring approaches to address their interests, focus areas, and concerns. Communicators are at the forefront of this engagement, and sound ESG knowledge equips us to navigate these conversations more effectively. By understanding the nuances of ESG, we can design the right kind of communication strategies to support an organisation’s commitment to specific causes that resonate with a wide range of stakeholders.

4. ESG Knowledge Gives Better Understanding Of Regulatory Compliance

ESG regulations and reporting requirements are evolving and becoming increasingly stringent in many jurisdictions. Since the release of the inaugural ISSB Standards, many countries are now adopting steps towards implementing globally accepted baselines in sustainability reporting. Communicators, particularly those who are in corporate communications, are a part of the team that is responsible for ensuring that organisations comply with these regulations and communicate their efforts transparently. Failure to do so can result in legal and financial risks, as non-compliance can lead to fines, legal disputes, and reputational harm. Therefore, a comprehensive understanding of ESG regulations is essential for us to navigate this complex landscape successfully.

5. ESG Highly Influences Investment Decisions

Investors are increasingly seeking opportunities with organisations that demonstrate a commitment to ESG values, as these organisations are often viewed as more resilient and better positioned for long-term success.

Communicators play a critical role in telling the story of an organisation’s financial performance and its ESG practices. We need to articulate how these practices align with the organisation’s long-term sustainability goals, as this alignment can influence investment decisions and access to capital.

6. Understanding ESG Risks Is Crucial In Communications Initiatives

ESG risks, such as environmental disasters, social controversies, or governance failures, can have a profound impact on an organisation’s operations and financial stability. Communicators must be well-versed in these risks so we are ready to proactively support their mitigation. This includes crisis communication when necessary, as effectively addressing ESG-related crises can mitigate damage to an organisation’s reputation and financial health.

7. Telling Compelling Stories Needs Depth To Move Beyond Greenwashing 

Organisations that excel in ESG practices often bring multiple benefits. Communicators can amplify the benefits of these practices through effectively communicating how the organisation’s ESG efforts are making a difference. Whether it’s reducing carbon emissions, implementing fair labour practices, or promoting transparent governance, these efforts create value for stakeholders and enhance an organisation’s market position.

8. A Focus On Addressing Global Challenges Is An Ethical and Social Responsibility

ESG encompasses ethical and social responsibilities, which have gained paramount importance in today’s socially conscious world. Communicators must convey an organisation’s commitment to responsible business practices and its contributions to addressing global challenges like climate change, social inequality, and ethical governance. This not only aligns with the values of many stakeholders but also positions the organisation as a responsible and ethical player in the market.

9. Long-Term Sustainability: ESG’s Role in Resilience

ESG is intrinsically tied to an organisation’s long-term sustainability. Communicators play a vital role in shaping the narrative around how an organisation’s ESG efforts contribute to its resilience. By emphasising the organisation’s commitment to environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and sound governance, we can help demonstrate how organisations are equipped to thrive in an evolving business landscape.

To Wrap Up

In today’s business environment, I’ve realised that the understanding of ESG is not merely a nice-to-have skill for communicators; it is a strategic imperative. ESG directly impacts an organisation’s reputation, stakeholder relationships, regulatory compliance, financial performance, and overall sustainability. Those who excel in effectively communicating an organisation’s ESG initiatives and performance contribute significantly to its long-term success.

As communicators, we are uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between an organisation’s actions and the perceptions of stakeholders. By comprehending and articulating the nuances and importance of ESG, we play a pivotal role in shaping the organisation’s image, fostering trust, and ensuring that it remains a responsible and resilient entity in an ever-changing business landscape. As ESG continues to gain prominence, embracing this knowledge will allow us to contribute impactfully to organisations and the communities around them, supporting their journey toward a sustainable and prosperous future.

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