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Ways to Grow ESG: Learning from Today’s Corporate Sustainability Leaders

Marisa Long headshotWords by Marisa Long
Leadership & Transparency
solar power ESG

In the past few weeks, many of the world’s largest brands announced ambitious ESG (environmental, social and governance) goals, seemingly one-upping each other on their sustainability commitments and surpassing their existing corporate goals with bold new ones. What do these intrepid proclamations say about the future of ESG and what we can learn from these examples when building out our own ESG plans?

Measurement of ESG matters

When it comes to setting goals, tracking progress is critical to showcasing commitment, building on accomplishments and establishing credibility. Many company leaders have implemented impressive sustainability practices in their business, but they aren’t properly tracking, reporting or building off progress. You can’t advance your goals or share your story without measuring efforts. 

Reducing energy consumption is something a lot of companies commit to and track. PepsiCo recently announced it is moving to 100 percent renewable electricity in the U.S., a step toward its already established goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2030. A place to start is tracking small commitments, like switching to LED lighting or smart thermostats, or taking it a step further and installing solar technology. Many of the world’s largest companies are also using third-party rating systems like LEED and WELL and are committed to tracking and measuring energy and water usage, transportation and waste impacts and health and wellbeing, among other factors, in their corporate offices, manufacturing facilities and retail locations.

Integrate your efforts

Tying sustainability and ESG to the core of your business shows you are authentic and “walk the talk.” And, it’s good for business. Today, 85 percent of U.S. investors express interest in sustainable investing strategies and a 2019 CGS survey found that more than two-thirds of respondents consider sustainability when making a purchasing decision. 

BlackRock, the world’s largest investor, shared news that it is committed to combatting climate change by making “sustainability integral to portfolio construction” and will avoid companies that “present a high sustainability-related risk.” Microsoft, which announced plans to be carbon negative by 2030, is also investing $1 billion in tools and technology that will undoubtedly help countless others in efforts to reduce carbon output. Making sustainability part of the business plan – having the CEO, company leadership and the board all invested while also engaging employees, customers, partners, the community and other stakeholders – will establish a company as a leader among peers.

Eliminate waste

Nestle shared plans to invest up to $2 billion in sustainable packaging, and Taco Bell set an ambitious goal to make all its consumer-facing packaging recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025. There are many ways companies can prioritize creating less waste, such as implementing recycling and composting programs at the office, printing less, setting sustainable printing and quantity requirements for collateral and branded items, utilizing packaging that’s been recycled and is recyclable/compostable and committing to more efficient manufacturing practices. There are also certification programs available, such as TRUE zero waste, that enable facilities to pursue and achieve zero waste goals to cut their carbon footprint. 

Make it someone’s job

Accountability is one of the crucial components to achieving sustainability goals, and, when it’s someone’s job, that sends a clear message to stakeholders. Starbucks, already a sustainability leader, just hired its first chief sustainability officer and issued a message from its CEO reinforcing its sustainability commitments. While your organization might not be in a position to hire a full-time staff member, take a look at the existing team and see if there is one person or a team of people who can be responsible for creating and implementing your plan. It’s also important to scale plans accordingly and think about what the role would look like if it could be created in the future. 

No matter where you are in your sustainability journey, share your story. If you are making authentic and meaningful commitments, engaging the right people and working toward clear goals, you are moving in the right direction for your brand and your business. 

Image credit: Markus Spiske/Unsplash

Marisa Long headshotMarisa Long

Marisa Long is a marketing and communications strategist with expertise in sustainability, energy and ESG communications. She brings more than 15 years of experience developing and implementing successful campaigns for brands and businesses. She is currently executive vice president at Inspire PR Group.

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