by Roy Snell

I have hit an ESG wall.  I have been asking people some very basic questions about the ESG movement and I am not getting the right answers.  I am asking simple questions such as “What is the role of the Organizational ESG Officer” and I am getting many different answers. There is clearly a problem.

On occasion I am told that an ESG Officer is a data collector/reporter; that simply can’t be all there is. An Organization’s ESG improvement will be limited if there isn’t an ESG owner who is in charge of ESG and given the responsibility, accountability and authority to make changes.  Some  ESG Officers and ESG programs are more mature than I am implying but it’s a small group.  If ESG Officers are going to make the world a better place by helping their organizations monitor and improve its environmental, social and governance goals we are going to need a more robust job description for ESG Officers.  I am talking about ESG Officers participating in ESG auditing, monitoring, investigation, risk assessments, education, policy development, etc.   Of course, ESG is not going to run other departments such as HR, legal, risk, sustainability, etc., but someone needs to make sure that those departments are constantly improving ESG metrics and finding and fixing ESG related problems.

Just to make sure we are on the same page, the ranting in this post is about the role of what I am calling the ESG Officer who manages their Organization’s ESG Program.  I am talking about for profit, nonprofit, publicly traded and governmental entities.  I am not talking about ESG Officers who work in an investment firm to find ESG friendly investments for clients or insurance company ESG Officers who collect ESG data to properly underwrite a policy.

I was similarly frustrated during the birth of the compliance profession where I spent 25 years in the eye of the “compliance profession’s evolutionary storm.” I spent most of my time thinking… “You can’t possibly be serious. You can’t possibly believe that this is how the compliance profession should be defined?”  I thought some people were trying to manipulate the evolution of compliance programs/officers to benefit themselves or their profession, often to the detriment of the compliance profession.  It was a constant battle for years. People called me a visionary and I thought it was a bit much… I was just at the epicenter of the roll-out of a new profession.  However, now that I am working in ESG and see the whole thing happening again without leadership or a visionary, I understand what people were talking about during the evolution of the compliance profession.  If ESG has a visionary with a strong organization behind it, many people helping  and significant finances available … I can’t find it.  What I see is a bunch of special interest groups that are trying to make ESG all about what they know, believe and want to see happen… because it will help them personally.  This is not a big picture approach.

The ESG Officer profession needs a visionary and a group of people helping define and defend the correct role of the ESG Officer.  They are going to need financial resources.  The ESG profession and ESG programs will simply not evolve effectively without leadership… very strong leadership.

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