For some, the term ESG (environmental, social, and governance) still conjures notions of issues not linked to the financial performance of the company. But given the heightened focus from a variety of stakeholders (including regulators) and the growing understanding of its impact on performance, ESG is a critical topic in the boardroom.
ESG presents real risk—and potentially even bigger opportunities.
Since we first published our director’s guide to ESG in November 2020, much has changed, but the fundamental principle underpinning our guide remains the same—ESG issues are inextricably linked to a company’s strategy and need to be part of the board agenda.
Management teams need a strategic plan that takes advantage of market opportunities and addresses material risks. In its oversight role, the board is responsible for ensuring that the company’s strategy is appropriate, takes account of material risks, and is likely to deliver results. Because ESG is grounded in risks and opportunities, the ESG lens is often a more comprehensive way of packaging existing work and analysis.
Here are some considerations for the board on how to address ESG oversight:
Companies have made rapid strides in unlocking the business value of ESG in recent years. The ESG issues a company faces vary widely by industry and company maturity, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. The rapidly evolving regulatory environment, including the proposed SEC rules for cyber and climate-related disclosures, means that companies should take action now to reduce the burden of future disclosure requirements. Directors have a big role to play in guiding management to allocate the appropriate resources and attention. Forward-looking companies value being a frontrunner on ESG issues because they see the connection to the company’s long-term success.