This blog originally appeared on Workiva.com on July 19, 2022. Written by Yasser Mahmud.
If you listen to conversations involving multiple ESG leaders, it’s easy to see the fundamental value of community.
Sharing ideas, best practices, challenges, and strategies is immeasurably valuable in the world of ESG, which in some ways still feels uncharted, even after all these years. Unresolved questions about ESG frameworks and global requirements are reason enough to seek the support of peers. When one company’s impacts can easily affect another’s along a supply chain or value chain, the ESG journey isn’t one that should be taken alone.
I was lucky enough to be in the room when more than a dozen members of the Workiva ESG Customer Advisory Board (CAB) gathered for their first meeting. It was in Washington, D.C., during Sustainability Week US, an Economist Impact event that brings together thousands of ESG experts. The ESG CAB members come from a variety of industries, including financial services, entertainment, energy, manufacturing, travel, and technology. They collectively have backgrounds in sustainability, law, SEC reporting, investing, and strategy. As noted by my colleague Mandi McReynolds, head of ESG at Workiva and host of the podcast ESG Talk, CAB members all run toward complex work, they’re collaborative, and they have the trust of the C-suite.
When we met, the deadline for the public to comment on the SEC’s climate disclosure proposal was near. CAB members shared questions and frustrations while also discussing what has worked well for them in terms of sharing data between ESG and SEC teams, reporting, and providing some level of assurance.
If you have an opportunity to join a community of ESG leaders and practitioners in these early years of mandated ESG reporting around the world, do it. It’s a chance to network, hear what peers think, and play a leading role in shaping the future of ESG.
Amplify your ESG voice
What I heard at the ESG CAB meeting helped me rethink challenges in the space. My team will take CAB members’ perspectives back to Workiva so we can keep improving our platform to meet all customers’ needs.
One takeaway: the more streamlined and focused ESG reporting is, the more time teams can focus on ESG work itself. In other words, they can spend more time further integrating ESG into corporate strategy, identifying risks and competitive advantages, and most importantly, taking meaningful action toward ESG goals.
“Our report is data heavy, but I don’t know if it’s information rich,” a CAB member from a leading oil services firm said. “Creating a meaningful story and action plan based on that data is more difficult.”
“I’m driving my team to do less reporting, not more,” said the global sustainability principal for a multinational design and manufacturing company. “We can’t do everything. We’ve got to do less because there’s too much noise.”
“It isn’t easy to be thrown into such a quickly changing environment that is also very visible. It's important to stay in touch with your peers.”
An ESG manager for an energy company noted the importance of data integrity for public disclosures and for internal decision-making on matters like targets for greenhouse gas emissions. “To determine a good target, you have to get a good handle on the data you have and have management be confident in the data, so that if you set targets, you can be confident in them,” he said.
Find your community
Beyond Workiva, a new community is emerging for ESG leaders and practitioners. The SEC Professionals Group is spinning off a new ESG Professionals Group open to anyone involved in ESG work. Workiva is the national sponsor, but it’s meant to be a grassroots ESG community, free of salespeople, media, or trolls, where people who are doing the work can dig in to have real conversations with others in the field.
Similar to the SEC Pro Group, those who join the ESG Pro Group have access to exclusive events, members-only resources like blogs and forums, and leadership opportunities. I know some of our ESG CAB members also participate in industry-specific ESG communities or local groups with ties to a city or region.
“It isn’t easy to be thrown into such a quickly changing environment that is also very visible,” one associate director of ESG for an IT company told my team at Workiva. “Everyone is watching, and yet there aren't really any guideposts leading you to the right path. It's important to stay in touch, particularly with your peers, to make sure you’re all aligned.”