By Roy Snell

Before I start, I want to clarify a point.  It is my belief that ESG has been around for 100 years.  Some claim that the earliest environmentalists are reported to be people who practiced the Jainism religion from ancient India 2,500 years ago.  One could argue that minute forms of ESG have probably been around since the dawn of time.

Over the years we have ESG all sorts of things such as Corporate Social Responsibility, environmentalism, social consciousness, sustainability, anti-corruption, building ethical cultures, etc. I believe that a majority of people want to make the world a better place from and environmental, social or governance standpoint.  Had we not made efforts to improve environmental, social and governance issues over the last 100 years we would all still be dying of pollution and own slaves.  Let me try to put into perspective the significant ESG progress we have made.

In 1900 the wild Buffalo population dropped to fewer than 40 animals from an estimated 30 million a century beforehand. We now have 500,000 wild Buffalo in the US.

In the US in 1963 there were 417 known pairs of Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states. There are over 316,000 Bald Eagles today and they have been removed from the endangered species list.  Here are 10 other animals that have been taken off the endangered species , according to

  1. Southern white rhinoceros
  2. Panda bear
  3. Chatham petrel
  4. Yellowstone grizzly bear
  5. Arabian oryx (pictured above)
  6. Gray wolf
  7. Steller sea lion
  8. Gray whale
  9. Snow leopard
  10. Northern brown kiwi

We have also improved our environmental condition over the last 100 years.  Due to the pollution and spillage of oil and chemicals, the Rogue River in Detroit caught fire in 1969. Not to be outdone, Cleveland poured enough flammable crap into the Cuyahoga River that it caught on fire not once, not twice, but 13 times between 1868 and 1969. The following chart is from the World Atlas listing river fires.

  1.     2014                       Wenzhou, Zhejiang, China
  2.     1969                       Rouge River, Detroit, Unites States
  3.     1968                       Buffalo River, Buffalo, United States
  4.     Late 1800’s          Schuylkill River, Philadelphia, United States
  5.     1952 & 1969         Cuyahoga River, Cleveland, United States
  6.     2015                       Bagalore Lake, Bangalore, India

It seems to me that government and company “ESG programs” all around the world can call this an ESG win.  Prior to 1969 there were a couple dozen river fires in the US alone and since then there have been two in the world?  Regulations and compliance with environmental regulations have changed the world.  Efforts have been made and although we are not perfect… we have improved.

What about social issues such as healthcare?  I spent my career in healthcare and I believe healthcare is flawed.  However, it’s better now than it was. Life expectancy has improved in the United States from about 54 years in 1920 to about 78 years today. We live 24 more years on average in the US than people did 100 years ago.  I understand that there are inequities, but every class of people are living longer than 100 years ago because of our significant efforts to improve.

Governance, particularly in businesses, is harder to compare and contrast over the last 100 years.  However, Goodcorporation which works in over 80 countries published an article on July 8, 2013 “Are business ethics getting worse?” which made the following statement.

“Looking back over the last 100 years, there have been huge improvements in areas such as health & safety, labour laws, discrimination and equality. Those who felt that there has been some improvement argued that business ethics has definitely risen up the corporate agenda.”

From an ESG perspective the world is becoming a better place.  Its everywhere you look.  We are not perfect.  We will never be perfect.  But we are getting better.  ESG under any other name over the last 100 years has improved our environmental, social and governance efforts.  The biggest complaint of the ESG haters is that our ESG efforts will bankrupt the US.  The standard of living has improved, not declined, during this incredible ESG progress over the last 100 years.  From…

“A good guess is that we’re somewhere between five and 15 times better off in terms of material well-being than we were 100 years ago. Maybe more. A good point estimate is that our standard of living has increased tenfold in the last century.”

Whatever ESG cost us, it did not result in financial ruin as the ESG naysayers claim. In fact, we have significantly improved our standard of living while making the world a better place.





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