Who Needs a Seat at the Table? Building a Multidisciplinary ESG Steering Committee

October 4, 2023 | New Workplace Leadership | 6 min read

The term “ESG” has become more than just an acronym. It represents a fundamental shift in how organizations operate and are perceived by the world.

ESG stands for environmental, social, and governance, and it encompasses a framework that evaluates an organization’s impact on the environment, its relationships with society, and its governance structures. ESG factors are driven by the public’s growing awareness of the environmental and social impact businesses can have on our world.

Consumers and employees are placing increasing pressure on organizations to take responsibility for their actions and improve their performance across all three ESG dimensions. Employees seek employers who share their values in a world increasingly concerned with creating a secure and positive future.

Embracing robust ESG practices offers numerous advantages to organizations. It helps reduce exposure to risks; enhances reputation with investors, consumers, and stakeholders; and leads to cost savings in energy consumption, waste management, and insurance premiums. Ernst & Young’s recent study confirms that ESG remains a top priority for American executives. Other research from the World Economic Forum highlights how comprehensive ESG reporting leads to corporate transformation globally. ESG practices drive innovation, product development, market expansion, talent acquisition, and employee retention.

The Crucial Role of a Dedicated ESG Committee

A dedicated ESG committee is vital in elevating and prioritizing ESG issues within an organization, ensuring they are appropriately managed. It leverages expertise from diverse organizational areas to craft and execute effective ESG initiatives. Additionally, the committee facilitates transparent communication of ESG performance to stakeholders, fostering trust and attracting investors, customers, and top-tier talent. A dedicated ESG committee empowers organizations to enhance their ESG performance, mitigate risks, and build a more sustainable and responsible future.

ESG risks and opportunities are intricate and varied, influenced by industry, organization size, location, and additional factors. To effectively recognize and assess these ESG factors, building a diverse, multidisciplinary team is imperative.

Creating an ESG team involves five phases:

Phase 1: Forming a Multidisciplinary Team

A diverse team brings varying perspectives and experiences, ensuring all potential risks and opportunities are identified and considered. For instance, a group comprising members from different functions, such as sustainability, legal, human resources, and risk management, can comprehensively assess ESG risks. Similarly, a team with members with experience in multiple industries can identify risks and best practices regardless of sector. Additionally, a multidisciplinary team brings diverse skills and expertise, emphasizing the importance of solid communication and collaboration skills.

Constructing a diverse team involves considering several factors:

  • Organizational Goals: Identify the ESG priorities aligned with the organization’s goals and objectives. Determine the skills and expertise required to achieve these priorities.
  • Diversity Dimensions: Recognize the diversity dimensions important to the organization, such as gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, disability, and educational background.
  • Experience in Diverse Environments: Seek candidates with a track record of working in diverse environments, showcasing their ability to collaborate effectively with different perspectives.
  • Open-Mindedness: Be open to candidates who may not have traditional qualifications but possess unique talents and perspectives.
  • Invest in Training: Be willing to invest in training and development to equip team members with the required skills and knowledge.

Find out what your corporate sustainability training should look like.

Remember that the specific criteria will vary depending on the organization’s unique goals, objectives, and culture. However, by considering these factors, organizations can establish a diverse, multidisciplinary team well-equipped to identify and assess ESG risks and opportunities.

Phase 2: Defining the Organization’s ESG Vision

Crafting a compelling and practical ESG vision is the next crucial step. Start by gaining a clear understanding of your organization’s values and goals. Ask yourself what your organization stands for and what it aims to achieve.

Identify the ESG issues most important to your organization, such as climate change, human rights, and corporate governance. Set ambitious yet achievable goals for ESG performance to maintain motivation and ensure alignment with your organization’s mission.

Ensure that the committee is supported by the highest levels of your organization. A member of the C-suite and/or the board of directors should serve as sponsor to the sustainability vision. Communicate your ESG vision to stakeholders to garner support and increase the likelihood of achieving your goals. Integrating your ESG vision into your organization’s overall strategy is essential for sustainable and effective ESG efforts.

Establish mechanisms to measure and report on your ESG performance and commit to continuous improvement as an ongoing process.

Phase 3: Creating an ESG Framework and Action Plan

Developing an ESG framework and action plan is the crux of translating your vision into tangible initiatives.

When developing your organization’s framework consider the following:

Establish ESG Goals: Define your organization’s ESG goals and objectives, aligning them with your vision. These goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Identify Risks and Opportunities: Recognize your organization’s ESG risks and opportunities. Understand how ESG factors can impact your business.

Conduct a Materiality Assessment: Determine which ESG factors are most beneficial to your organization. Focus on those that have the most significant impact on your stakeholders and business.

Develop an ESG Framework: Create a framework that outlines your organization’s ESG principles and commitments. This framework should serve as the foundation for your ESG initiatives.

Craft an ESG Action Plan: Outline specific ESG goals, objectives, and steps to achieve them. Consider resource allocation, timelines, and responsible parties. Execute your plan by setting targets, allocating resources, and tracking progress. Ensure that responsible teams or individuals are well-equipped to carry out the initiatives.

Communicate ESG Progress: Regularly communicate your organization’s ESG progress to stakeholders. Transparency builds trust and demonstrates your commitment to ESG.

Continuous Improvement: Treat ESG as an ongoing process. Continuously assess and enhance your ESG performance based on feedback and results.

Learn more about how training falls into your ESG action plan.

Phase 4: Pinpointing Relevant Stakeholders

In shaping your organization’s ESG strategy, engaging relevant stakeholders is crucial. These stakeholders, including customers, investors, employees, suppliers, and the community, offer valuable insights and alignment with ESG expectations. They influence ESG priorities, sustainability commitments, and responsible workplace practices.

Involving stakeholders in the ESG process yields several advantages, including improved decision-making, increased support, enhanced reputation, and reduced ESG-related risks. This collaborative approach ensures that ESG initiatives are well-informed, trusted, and aligned with broader sustainability goals.

Phase 5: Executing and Overseeing the ESG Strategy

Execution and monitoring processes are essential for achieving ESG objectives for several reasons:

  • Accountability: Execution and monitoring establish clear accountability, ensuring that ESG objectives are owned and progress is made.
  • Progress Tracking: Monitoring provides a systematic way to track ESG initiative progress and identify potential issues.
  • Data Collection and Analysis: Data collection informs decision-making and measures the success of ESG initiatives.
  • Resource Allocation: Monitoring helps allocate resources effectively, optimizing ESG efforts.
  • Stakeholder Communication: Effective monitoring supports transparent reporting to stakeholders.
  • Risk Management: Identifying and mitigating ESG-related risks is essential for minimizing potential negative impacts.
  • Compliance: Monitoring ensures compliance with ESG-related laws and regulations.
  • Alignment with Goals: Monitoring keeps ESG initiatives aligned with the organization’s values and objectives.
  • Strategic Decision-Making: Data from monitoring informs strategic decision-making.

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Empower Your Workforce to Embrace ESG

The steering committee plays a pivotal role in executing and monitoring ESG objectives within your organization. The committee provides strategic oversight, sets goals, allocates resources, and far more. It’s an invaluable resource for long-term success and responsible corporate citizenship.

By embracing ESG principles and building a dedicated ESG steering committee, organizations can navigate the complex landscape of environmental, social, and governance factors, mitigate risks, enhance their reputation, and contribute to a more sustainable and responsible future.

The fundamental transformation occurs when you empower your frontline employees to embrace these initiatives daily. As you embark on your journey to build an ESG steering committee and elevate your organization’s strategy, remember that change is a gradual process.

Start today, and together, we can shape a future where sustainability is not just a “must-have” but a core value that defines your organization’s legacy.

Skillsoft’s How to Begin Your Corporate Sustainability Journey guide offers a step-by-step roadmap to help you navigate this transformative journey successfully.