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Making a Global Impact with ESG Programs: The Workforce Institute Weigh-In

No longer a “nice to have,” environmental, social, and governance (ESG) programs have become a business imperative for organizations worldwide. When done right, there can be myriad benefits for the planet, as well as the company, its people, and its customers. This month, members of The Workforce Institute advisory board give their perspectives on how organizations can make a positive impact through ESG.

The Workforce Institute Weigh-In for April 2023: In your experience, what programs, policies, and/or strategies have helped organizations make a meaningful impact with their ESG efforts?

“My best advice is to follow what employees value. Ask them. Find what they value, make sure it aligns with the values and mission of the organization, and let employees drive both the work and where to spend resources.” — Kate Bischoff, employment attorney, k8bisch, LLC

“The surefire way to make progress on ESG goals is to pick goals that create cost savings. For example, reducing energy consumption is good for the environment and the bottom line. All other ESG goals risk being derailed as soon as the organization faces economic challenges.” — David Creelman, CEO, Creelman Research

“We’re about to see the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) adopt a climate disclosure. It’s politically contentious right now, but probably will get through — and that will shift the incentive structure of senior leaders in terms of moving away from ‘green washing’ and moving toward more sustainable business practices. So, there is an element of carrot/stick and incentives here.

At the cultural level, it’s important to be in touch with what your employees care about. That’s part of the ‘experiences’ tier of a workplace, which drives (and interacts with) ‘beliefs,’ and those ultimately shape actions and results. Unfortunately, we do still have rampant ageism in workplaces, and companies do tend to hire younger. While this is a bit of a generalization, the younger generation does care more about ESG best practices, because they’ll be here longer and their kids may be younger. If you’re violating the belief structure of your core employees, that’s not a good workplace culture. So, listen to them. Empower them to propose solutions about supply chain, vendor partners, reducing your carbon footprint, and better ESG-tracking software (which is an emergent industry).

Remember that ESG does, sadly, become part of the general culture war landscape. Move past that and focus instead on what you want your employees to experiencearound working there, and what you want them to believeabout how you do business — and use ESG initiatives as a chance to empower some employees who maybe aren’t in revenue-facing roles. Give them ownership of the approach and strategy and allow them to access senior leaders. It’s a new space to a lot of the old guard, so it’s a good chance for leadership development.” — Dr.Jessica Kriegel, chief scientist of workplace culture, Culture Partners

“Organizations often see ESG initiatives as charity instead of robust business strategy. Because of this, they often write checks to nationally known organizations long since validated by national activist groups. Although not a negative exercise, it fails to solicit the value it could and should at the local level. Leaders need to work harder to authentically engage local activists and leaders to understand the wants and needs of these groups and how to make a meaningful impact — one that improves the communities specifically where they operate, while raising their profile and standing among the populations they serve. Specificity matters. Engaging locally matters. It takes extra effort, but the impact is exponentially greater.” — John Frehse, senior managing director, Ankura, and co-host, “No Suits, No Slides! video series

“ESG efforts can benefit from strategic and people-focused HR programs encompassing diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives, flexible work arrangements, and employee volunteering programs. By implementing D&I policies and programs, organizations benefit from diverse perspectives, fostering innovation and promoting social responsibility. Flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or hybrid scheduling, reduce the environmental impact by decreasing transportation needs. Employee volunteering programs empower staff to participate in social and environmental projects, fostering positive change in communities. These strategies promote sustainable growth in organizations while responsibly supporting the environment.” — Laurie Ruettimann, host, Punk Rock HR podcast

“The following are a few examples of successful ESG efforts in Latin America that can be adapted at organizations worldwide:

  • Sustainability Reporting: Organizations can produce a sustainability report to communicate their ESG performance to stakeholders. This report should include a comprehensive overview of ESG practices, policies, and performance, as well as the company’s future goals and targets.
  • Environmental Management Systems (EMS): It is important to implement an EMS to manage the company’s environmental impacts. This includes identifying and managing environmental risks, setting environmental targets and objectives, and monitoring and reporting on environmental performance.
  • Carbon-Footprint Reduction: Organizations can set targets to reduce their carbon footprints by improving energy efficiency, using renewable energy sources, and implementing sustainable transportation practices.
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Strategies: Companies can develop, implement, and measure strategies to promote DE&I within their workforce. This includes setting targets to increase the representation of underrepresented groups, developing training programs to raise awareness of biases, and implementing policies to support a more inclusive workplace.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Organizations can engage with their stakeholders — including customers, employees, and suppliers — to understand their expectations and concerns regarding ESG issues.
  • Impact Investing: Investors can use their capital to support companies that have a positive impact on ESG issues. This can incentivize companies to improve their ESG practices and drive positive change.

Ultimately, the most effective approach will depend on the specific goals and priorities of each organization” — Ivonne Vargas, award-winning journalist and bestselling author, “¡Contrátame!” (Hire Me!)

Want to see the global impacts of ESG in action? Learn more about 
the ESG program at UKG and view the company’s latest annual report.

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