By Roy Snell

When compliance programs exploded in the late 90s and early 2000s many people took credit for the idea.  The people taking credit for the growth expected to get credit, be the center of attention, and control how compliance programs evolved.  By definition they all couldn’t be the only group that invented it, but they acted as if they did.  When they didn’t get control and ownership of compliance some of them became frustrated.  One of these groups was the government.  A high ranking enforcement agent told me that if he and his department pulled their support, compliance programs and the compliance profession would come crumbling down.  It was an “I’m going to take my ball and leave” kind of moment.  I sat in amazement watching all these groups thinking they were all the center of the universe and getting upset that the compliance world didn’t evolve around them.  I felt that things as big as the explosion of compliance programs had many tipping points, triggering events, and reasons why it exploded. I also felt that once compliance programs hit terminal velocity the trajectory of compliance was out of everyone’s control, including the government.  I believe the same is true for ESG programs and the ESG profession.

Many people want to take credit for the explosion of ESG such as the corporate responsibility folks, sustainability folks, activists, rating agencies, the investment community, environmentalists, etc.  They all deserve enormous credit for the growth of ESG; however much like the government in the evolution of compliance example, they all can’t take all the credit.  By definition, they all can’t take control of the burgeoning ESG programs and profession.  We all have to work together.  Like the mighty Mississippi, we are all going to have to go with the flow with all ESG’s twists and turns. If you ever find yourself frustrated that ESG isn’t going the way you expected I would think about one question… “What is it most people want… above all else?”  They want companies in all industries and in all countries to be aware of their impact on the environment and society and their corporate governance and drive towards continuous improvement.  That is where we are headed.  There is no stopping ESG and its trajectory because it has hit terminal velocity.  As a result, the world is going to be a better place.

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