Is ESG something that is covered in your university course, and if not how did you become interested in ESG?
ESG is surprisingly not covered in my course, it was actually never mentioned during class. However, a decent number of students I have talked to know about it, probably because it’s becoming very relevant across industries nowadays and it is something that is likely to be a commercial awareness topic in graduate job interviews.
I became interested in ESG because of my interest in environmental law – which I would like to focus my legal career on. I was having trouble finding work opportunities in the area so I started using Linkedin to connect to environmental lawyers and ask them for advice. Many of them mentioned ESG, as it involves environmental considerations, and it’s a great area to get involved with at the moment. These conversations ignited my interest in ESG and led me to explore the topic.
ESG is such a broad topic, what do you think are the main challenges involved in ESG investing?
I think there are two main challenges involving ESG investing: skepticism towards it and being able to accurately measure it.
Until not so long ago, people associated sustainable investment with loss of profit. I think this misconception still exists and can make people skeptical about ESG or sustainable investment, even though it is not true at all! ESG compliance is directly related to an increase in profits.
The skepticism partially originates from the fact that there isn’t a clear way of measuring ESG. And this is the second challenge. The framework covers a wide range of criteria from carbon emissions to transparency, it is hard to measure and accurately report all of ESG areas using a single tool. My next blog article for the Landmark Academy focuses on this topic actually.
ESG is a very broad topic but which do you see as the most pressing issues?
I think that in previous years, E (environmental) issues such as biodiversity and climate change were definitely the most pressing issues within ESG. In fact, they were probably the reason why ESG grew so rapidly over the last few years. The increased media coverage of the environmental crisis, the Extinction Rebellion movement, and the rising environmental awareness created a sense of urgency to act. Investors wanted to help those issues and companies wanted to take action to show that they cared.
However, 2020 has helped shift the balance – highlighting that S (Social) issues are just as important. As a result of the pandemic, the public is vigilant about how companies deal with their staff. At the same time, the Black Lives Matter movement and the resulting spotlight on racial injustice around the world raised the scrutiny on the level of diversity within a company’s workforce.
Where do you see the future of ESG?
I think that responsible choices among investors as well as consumers are becoming more and more common, as consumers want to buy products that resonate with their values and investors want to put their money where their values are. Studies consistently show that millennials and new generations are more prone to invest sustainably when compared to their parents, and I think this trend won’t stop growing any time soon. It’s time businesses adapted to this new landscape where a company’s ESG compliance will hugely affect their performance.
As a student entering the legal market, I can assure you that it is not only investors and consumers that are considering ESG compliance – new talent looking for a job no longer only looks at the sectors a firm works with. We are now looking at the companies’ values and whether they take a stance on issues we care about. In sum, I think the future of ESG is very promising, and companies that do not have good ESG criteria will be affected negatively. Be it by a decrease in investors, consumers, or talent.