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There are many reasons to pursue an Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) program. Mandatory GHG emission disclosures are looming, investors are increasing the pressure placed on companies to begin or strengthen ESG initiatives, employees are gravitating toward companies that focus on social and environmental responsibility; the list goes on. ESG is still new and making a name for itself, as demonstrated by the fact that even at the recent Greenbiz conference, a few people came up to the VelocityEHS booth and asked what “ESG” stood for—keep in mind Greenbiz is “the premier annual event for sustainable business leaders!” But this might not come as a surprise to those who work in the EHS & ESG space.

Many who work in EHS, ESG, and sustainability roles are often working with small teams, maybe even a team of one, and most of their daily motivation comes from a place of passion whether it’s the safety of their workers, protecting the planet, or some other driver. While return on investment (ROI) is always going to be a key consideration for their organization, many of the professionals leading ESG efforts are probably not just in it for the money. They’re likely overworked, and yet, they show up despite their initiatives often being overlooked or misunderstood, making it difficult to get the necessary budget and headcount that may be needed to make progress toward EHS or sustainability goals to ultimately make a difference. How do you work around this? Especially when you’re competing with other departments for limited company resources and approvals. It all comes down to getting buy-in from those in leadership, in C-suite roles, or on the Board.

While several sessions at the Greenbiz conference alluded to the importance of finding your sustainability “champion” and getting buy-in from leadership, one panel really dug into HOW to find that champion or get leadership on board; the panel was titled, “Guidance from Senior Leaders Who ‘Get It’”.

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Five Key Takeaways to Help You get Leadership Buy-in to ESG & Sustainability Initiatives

  1. Align ESG and Sustainability Goals with Company Initiatives. While ESG might be exciting and important to you and from a marketing perspective, leadership likely won’t care that your company is simply doing ESG. Your ESG strategy needs to relate to the business and investor strategy. Break it into digestible pieces that demonstrate value creation and lowered risk. For example, presenting ESG initiatives that will save the company money or help retain talent are tangible things that someone outside the sustainability space will understand more.
  2. Know Your Audience. Do your homework to find out who’s in the C-suite, boardroom, etc. Understand that these people probably don’t know about the ins and outs of ESG & sustainability, so you’ll need to translate it into their language. For example, the CFO needs to understand value, whereas the General Council needs to understand and evaluate risk. Develop your presentations accordingly and keep your arguments as succinct as possible as you prepare to share with leadership. As the subject matter expert, you need to do the hard work, so once you have someone’s attention, it’s easy for them to endorse the idea(s) and understand it enough that they’re able to send it up the hierarchy.
  3. Understand ESG and Politics. Understand that leaders might only have exposure to ESG based on what they see and hear on the news, so you might need to level-set what it actually means to the company. ESG can seem political, so avoid focusing on that and focus on the drivers for the organization. You can (and should) acknowledge the political aspects but reframe that while leaders may disagree with specific aspects of ESG (or the media framing of those aspects), here’s why it will help the bottom line for the company. Do your work in connecting ESG to the business strategy and basing your advocacy on data, because there’s no arguing with good results. Financial and operational performance are universal to business, so connect ESG to them where you can.
  4. Focus on the Long Game. Whether they’re in the C-suite, the Board, or investors, leaders are focused on the long term, so they need to understand that if they want the company to be around in 50+ years, they need to incorporate sustainability. While there are several reasons for this, start by making it simple. For example, maybe the organization relies on resources that are threatened by climate change, or which will be affected by market shifts toward less carbon-intensive raw materials. Businesses may quite literally not run in 50 years without making more sustainable choices now, so they need to start paying attention.
  5. Engage Employees. Unlock employee energy and get them excited about the initiatives you’re looking to pursue. If leadership notices this level of employee engagement throughout the company, they may see additional urgency in pursuing ESG initiatives.

The one important thing to keep in mind when it comes to fleshing out these ideas and putting them into action is that data is key. Let’s repeat that, data is key. To create a sustainability culture, you need to turn your ideas into strategy, and clean, reliable data is essential for a well-informed strategy. Good data will help you create the foundation you need so you can take action and build your arguments around the five ideas listed above.

VelocityEHS Is Here to Help!

Data collection and management might sound daunting, but VelocityEHS has resources and software solutions to help! Our ESG solution, part of our VelocityEHS Accelerate ® Platform, is designed by subject matter experts to help you build your ESG strategy from the ground up. From determining what’s material to your stakeholders (like the Boards, and C-suites) using a materiality assessment, to collecting the data points and utility information you need for GHG emissions reporting, and tracking and reporting other metrics you’ll need to track to build your ESG and Sustainability arguments, we can help. Get in touch today to learn more and get the support you need.