Social factors relate to an organization's relationships with its employees, customers, communities, and society at large.
Related topics include:
- Labor practices
- Diversity and inclusion
- Human rights
- Community engagement
- Customer satisfaction
Neglecting the social aspects of ESG can lead to reputational damage and operational disruptions.
Governance refers to the systems and processes that guide an organization's decision-making and operations. This can include:
- Board composition
- Executive compensation
- Ethical behavior
- Regulatory compliance
Strong governance is vital for maintaining trust among stakeholders and preventing legal and ethical issues.
Understanding Industry Risk Profiles
ESG considerations help organizations identify emerging risks that might not be apparent through traditional risk assessments. Climate change, for instance, poses substantial risks related to extreme weather events, resource scarcity, and regulatory changes.
An organization’s industry exerts a profound influence on its ESG risk profile, shaping its approach to sustainability and corporate responsibility. Different industries inherently carry distinct ESG risks and priorities based on their operations and value chains. For example, industries that rely heavily on natural resources, such as mining or agriculture, face heightened environmental risks related to resource depletion, habitat disruption, and pollution.
Technology companies may grapple with data privacy concerns and the ethical use of emerging technologies. Industry context significantly affects which ESG factors are most relevant and impactful for an organization. Companies must be attuned to these industry-specific risks to effectively manage them, as they are critical to meeting stakeholder expectations, regulatory compliance, and long-term viability.
Although organizations within the same industry share many commonalities, they may also vary in a great number of ways. They might operate in different regions, employ different factors of production, or integrate differently—either vertically within the supply chain or horizontally across product markets.
Diverging from Industry Profiles
As an organization’s circumstances differ, so do the sustainability risks and opportunities they face. Pure-play companies within an industry—those that display characteristics typical of the industry—are likely to find the topics and metrics identified in their industry to fit their organization neatly.
In other cases, companies diverge in important ways from the industry norms, which creates the need to closely examine a company’s circumstances. This helps to identify whether disclosure topics are not relevant or whether additional disclosure topics might be relevant to provide a complete picture of your organization’s performance on key sustainability factors.
It’s important to recognize the distinguishing features that indicate how your organization might differ from its industry archetype and how to interpret those features. These are commonly categorized in two groups
- Operations or internal factors
- Operating environment or external factors
Effectively integrating ESG-related risks and opportunities starts with a comprehensive assessment of an organization's risk profile. Moreover, an organization's industry can influence its competitive positioning and reputation, creating both opportunities and risks. Companies operating in sectors with a strong emphasis on sustainability and social responsibility, such as the renewable energy sector or organic food production, may find it easier to attract socially conscious investors and consumers.
Industries associated with historically negative ESG impacts, such as fossil fuels or fast fashion, may face greater scrutiny and pressure to reform their practices. As a result, the industry backdrop can significantly shape an organization's strategic priorities and the allocation of resources to mitigate ESG risks and capitalize on ESG-related opportunities.
Understanding and addressing industry-specific ESG challenges is integral to maintaining a positive reputation and securing a competitive edge in an increasingly conscious and discerning marketplace.
Tools for Updating Your ESG Risk Assessment
Different frameworks and types of assessments are available for organizations looking to benchmark or improve their ESG initiatives.
Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) Frameworks
The Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO) is known for developing and promoting the COSO internal control integrated framework, which provides guidance on effective internal control practices for organizations. The COSO ERM, a globally recognized standard for risk management, had a crucial update to incorporate sustainability considerations. This revision underscores the growing importance of ESG factors in the enterprise landscape.
By integrating sustainability into the ERM framework, organizations are encouraged to assess and manage risks related to their environmental and social impacts, governance practices, and broader societal responsibilities. This updated framework acknowledges that sustainability risks, such as climate change, supply chain ethics, and stakeholder expectations, can significantly impact an organization's long-term success and reputation.
The COSO ERM update with sustainability reflects a forward-looking approach to risk management, recognizing that responsible and sustainable practices are not only a moral imperative but a critical aspect of sound business strategy and risk mitigation in the modern era.
The COSO issued guidance to help companies establish effective internal controls over ESG reporting on March 30, 2023. Internal control over sustainability reporting (ICSR) may be new, but existing processes and controls can be modified to incorporate sustainability.
ESG Reporting Frameworks
Organizations can use standardized reporting frameworks like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), and the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) to structure their ESG disclosures. These frameworks have become a useful tool for updating an organization's risk profile, by offering a structured approach to assessing and managing a broader spectrum of risks that go beyond traditional financial considerations.
This standardization can further help organizations understand risks facing their business, so they can develop mitigation strategies. This comprehensive understanding of an organization's risk landscape can help foster informed decision making, enhance transparency, and ultimately safeguard the organization’s long-term sustainability and reputation in an increasingly ESG-conscious world. For external stakeholders like customers, prospective employees, or investors, these frameworks offer a contrasting way of digesting ESG-related information.
ESG Audits and Assessments
ESG audits and assessments by third-party experts can provide organizations with independent evaluations of their ESG practices and identify areas for improvement. These experts, often possessing extensive experience in sustainability and responsible business practices, scrutinize various aspects of an organization's operations. They examine the environmental impact of activities, assess the company's engagement with social issues, and evaluate the quality of governance structures in place. This examination helps organizations gain an accurate and unbiased understanding of their ESG performance, shedding light on both strengths and weaknesses.
ESG audits and assessments provide a roadmap for improvement, offering specific recommendations to enhance the organization's ESG performance.
Examples of ways to identify areas in need of enhancement to where organizations can be proactive:
- Reducing carbon emissions
- Increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace
- Improving board oversight
This proactive approach not only mitigates risks but also positions the organization to capitalize on ESG-related opportunities, such as attracting socially responsible investors and consumers. In an era where ESG considerations are integral to corporate reputation and financial performance, ESG audits and assessments are indispensable tools for organizations looking to align their strategies with the growing expectations of stakeholders and demonstrate their commitment to sustainable and responsible business practices.
Leveraging ESG to Identify Opportunities
The conversation around sustainability tends to emphasize environmental, social, and governance risks and externalities, such that the inherent opportunities in sustainability are often overlooked. However, material impacts on an organization’s condition or operating performance can be either positive or negative.
Leaders should recognize performance trends on a related topic. Typically, higher metric values that indicate improved economic performance, such as revenues, product sales, or employee engagement can be associated with an opportunity. Some examples follow:
Climate Change Opportunities
As the world shifts towards sustainability, organizations that adopt clean energy technologies, reduce carbon emissions, and develop climate-resilient products and services can capitalize on emerging market opportunities and changing consumer preferences.
ESG encourages organizations to innovate in social responsibility. Companies that invest in workforce development, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and community engagement can benefit from increased employee morale, customer loyalty, and positive public perception.
Strong governance practices, such as transparent reporting, ethical leadership, and robust compliance programs, enhance an organization's reputation and build trust with investors and stakeholders. This, in turn, can attract investment and strengthen the organization's financial health.
Attracting ESG Investors
Many investors now incorporate ESG criteria into their investment decisions. By aligning with ESG principles, organizations can access a broader pool of investors and potentially reduce their cost of capital.
Establishing Mitigation Strategies
Developing effective mitigation strategies based on an updated sustainability-informed risk profile is often the next step to developing an updated risk management strategy. The first aspect of this process is to prioritize identified risks based on their potential impact and likelihood.
This involves assessing the significance of each risk factor and categorizing them into high, medium, or low priority. High priority risks, such as those related to climate change, may necessitate immediate and comprehensive mitigation efforts, while lower priority risks can be addressed more gradually.
Once risks are prioritized, organizations should proceed to create mitigation strategies tailored to each risk category. Mitigation strategies can encompass various measures, such as implementing risk-reducing technologies, diversifying supply chains, improving governance practices, and enhancing stakeholder engagement.
Effective strategies often involve setting clear and achievable goals, assigning responsibilities to relevant teams or individuals, and establishing key performance indicators (KPI) to track progress.
Below are some common strategies organizations use to address emerging sustainability-related risks.
Carbon Reduction and Sustainability Initiatives
Organizations can proactively reduce their carbon footprint and implement sustainability initiatives to mitigate environmental risks. This includes transitioning to renewable energy sources and adopting circular economy practices.
Ethical Governance and Compliance
Implementing strong governance practices and adhering to ethical guidelines can mitigate legal and reputational risks. This involves transparent reporting, ethical leadership, and robust compliance programs.
Social Responsibility Programs
Organizations can develop social responsibility programs that promote diversity, inclusion, fair labor practices, and community engagement to address social risks. These initiatives enhance the organization's reputation and mitigate social risks.
Engaging with stakeholders including customers, employees, and communities is crucial for risk mitigation. It helps organizations understand and address the concerns of various stakeholders, reducing potential conflicts.
Communication and transparency are vital during this process to ensure alignment with stakeholders and foster trust. Regular monitoring and adjustment of mitigation strategies in response to changing ESG risk profiles and evolving stakeholder expectations are also crucial to maintaining the organization's resilience and sustainability in the face of emerging challenges.
We’re Here to Help
For assistance in understanding ESG risk profiles and what mitigation strategy to apply to your organization, please contact your Moss Adams professional.