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ESG in Action

Reporting from the GreenBiz 22 ESG Conference

Editor’s Note: It’s difficult not to be distracted and discouraged right now by the terrible war underway in Ukraine. Our hearts go out to everyone in harm’s way, including Yuliia, our illustrator. We must do everything we can to support efforts to end this aggression ASAP. At the same time, our environmental work continues to ensure that one crisis does not compound another. In that spirit, please find below this week’s issue of our newsletter.

Last week I was delighted to attend the GreenBiz 22 conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. The conference is a huge annual gathering of the ESG leaders who drive positive business practices. Not only was it nice to actually talk to people face-to-face again, but it was great to see that, with a little goodwill and cooperation, events like these can take place safely in the COVID era. A big congratulations and thank you to GreenBiz founder and chair Joel Makower and team.

Overall, I left Arizona less tanned than I would like but optimistic as ever about the determination of US business leaders to accelerate ESG initiatives over the next few years. 

But I also worry that there may be too much wishful thinking about voluntary corporate action and not enough emphasis on getting public policies right. We have to be realistic about what will move corporations to the kind of action – and scale – required to make headway toward fully addressing the tough environmental challenges we face. I believe we need more rules and that we should focus more of our effort on that front. 

More on that in a bit. 

In the meantime, here are my main takeaways after three very engaging days spent hanging out with great corporate ESG leaders. 

  1. ESG professionals are stronger than ever. These leaders are skillful and determined. They are showing the private sector that business can execute ambitious sustainability efforts in ways that make great commercial sense. I’ve always admired sustainability professionals. Their job is not at all easy but they keep pushing forward. Getting companies to change their ways is no small feat, but these pros successfully tackle that challenge every day. Bravo. Please keep up the great work. And CEOs – please pay close attention to your ESG teams. Make sure you engage them in all of your big decisions.
  2. When it comes to ESG, consumers care most about how companies treat their employees. Having mostly dealt with the environmental priorities of investors, I did not fully appreciate how different the concerns of consumers were. I learned that consumers care most about how companies treat their workers. Get this wrong and your reputation will be ruined, no matter how strong your environmental record. The next top concerns for consumers: plastic in oceans and recycling.