Today’s corporate landscape is witnessing a significant shift in perspective as businesses increasingly acknowledge the importance of sustainability, known as Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors. ESG takes a comprehensive approach to assessing a company’s impact on the environment, society, and governance practices. It includes various aspects such as carbon emissions, labour standards, diversity, and ethical business practices. It also aims to cover all the non-financial risks and opportunities associated with a company’s daily operations.
Many researchers find that companies that pay attention to ESG concerns do experience a positive impact on their value creation. Some researchers even conclude that a strong ESG proposition correlates with higher equity returns. Hence, more and more investors are incorporating ESG elements into their investment decision-making process, making ESG increasingly important from the perspective of securing debt and equity capital.
As essential business allies and representatives of investors, CFOs play a crucial role in advocating for ESG initiatives within their organizations.
Ebrima Sawaneh, an author and a CFO, outlines six effective strategies CFOs can implement to promote sustainable practices in their workplace.
1. Integrate ESG into Organization’s Strategy & Goal Setting
Strategic planning is a key area in which CFO plays a critical role. CFO can incorporate ESG objectives into strategic planning and ensure that sustainability becomes integral to the organization’s growth trajectory. This integration allows organizations to seize competitive advantages, attract responsible investors, and build long-term resilience.
The integration will start by defining specific and measurable ESG goals that align with the organization’s values and purpose. This can be followed by establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) and targets to track progress and hold the organization accountable for achieving its ESG objectives through reporting.
2. Embed ESG Considerations into Decision-Making Processes
CFOs and their teams play a key role in the decision-making of any organization. Therefore, they have the ability and authority to ensure that ESG considerations are integrated into the organization’s decision-making processes at all levels. The finance team should incorporate ESG criteria when evaluating investment opportunities, capital allocation, and resource allocation decisions.
Finance can provide analytical expertise to quantify the financial impacts of ESG investments and demonstrate how sustainability can enhance operational efficiency, reduce costs, and drive innovation.
For instance, if the operations department wants to buy ten new trucks for delivery, the finance team should not only consider the traditional assessment of returns such as financial IRR or NPV etc. They can consider other ESG implications such as the level of carbon emission (reduce by 10%), health and safety (reduce LTI), sustainable procurement (source), the noise level in the community (reduction due to new trucks), etc. Another instance is for finance to advocate ESG initiatives by allocating capital to more promising and sustainable opportunities such as renewables and waste reduction.
Therefore, the CFOs should consider investment decisions’ potential financial and non-financial impacts, balancing short-term financial gains with long-term sustainability objectives.
3. Implement Robust Sustainability Reporting and Measurement
One of the key areas where finance leaders make a substantial impact is financial reporting. Transparent and accurate reporting of ESG metrics has become essential for organisations to communicate their sustainability performance to stakeholders. Due to their experience in developing robust reporting frameworks that capture and disclose financial info, CFO can largely contribute to ESG data capture, analysis and reporting. Therefore, CFO should establish a comprehensive ESG reporting framework that captures relevant data and metrics to assess the organisation’s environmental and social impact. It is important for CFOs to set internal reporting mechanisms to track progress towards ESG goals and regularly communicate these updates to stakeholders like EXCO, the board and shareholders.
More important is for CFOs to put mechanisms through which the organisation embraces industry-recognized ESG reporting standards, such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) or Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), to enhance the credibility and comparability of ESG performance.
4. Educate and Empower the Finance Team:
To promote ESG awareness within the organization, it’s recommended that the CFO invests in training and educational programs for the finance team. By equipping the team with knowledge of ESG concepts, trends, and best practices, they can become strong advocates for sustainability. To achieve this, the finance team needs access to adequate resources and tools that enable them to integrate sustainability considerations into their daily work.
5. CFO Should Lead by Example
As a finance leader, it is important for the CFO to demonstrate the organization’s dedication to ESG by setting an example of sustainable practices and making intentional decisions that align with the organization’s objectives. This could include simple actions such as turning off office heating and cooling systems to decrease costs and carbon emissions. Additionally, more significant actions, such as increasing the representation of women in the finance team, can bring fresh perspectives and ideas to the organization. CFO can also lead by example by sharing successful ESG stories and celebrating achievements to inspire and motivate employees at all levels to embrace sustainability.
In summary, finance leaders are becoming increasingly crucial in driving sustainable practices within organizations. By taking up this growing responsibility, they can pave the way in ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) matters, promoting sustainability and contributing to the organization’s long-term success while positively impacting the environment, society, and governance.