CSR and ESG Messaging at a Moment of Ambiguity

As much as “a world in flux” seems to be a persistent theme given global events of the last 18 months, the descriptor seems equally applicable to developments in the realm of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors. The push-pull of regulatory momentum (as proposals are proffered, then critiqued, then modified) coupled with the sluggishness served up by a pandemic that has slowed down almost everything might tempt compliance teams and others working on CSR and ESG messaging to shelve it for now.

A few real-world examples

After all, the 26th United Nations Climate Conference won’t happen until later this year. In the European Union, the Regulatory Technical Standards supplementing the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) are not, as of this writing, quite finalized. In the United States, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is just beginning to focus more on climate and ESG-related risks when its examiners review a corporation’s records and operations.

Add to that the reality of getting back to work and getting back to business after a too-long standstill, and compliance teams and others may be tempted to put off CSR and ESG messaging a while longer, too. Something more pressing surely can take its place.

Change is coming

Nevertheless, CSR and its accompanying ESG factors that help assess progress should not be placed on the back burner. Although, depending on your jurisdiction, there may be a bit of regulatory haziness on what exactly will be happening and how, change most certainly is coming. We can see it in sustainability news coverage, both good and bad: companies that are engaging in more CSR and ESG reporting; asset managers that are threatening to disrupt corporate boards that are not doing enough.

As employees return to work with perhaps a greater appreciation for social responsibility, now is an opportune time to push out CSR and ESG messaging, both to ensure that your workforce is current with your organization’s requirements and to build a knowledge base in staff that will serve as foundation for upcoming changes. Set the tone now for CSR/ESG and make your messaging more granular as applicable regulations and more specific requirements come into effect.

Use CSR/ESG as an icebreaker

A hallmark of change management is to communicate often — and strategically. If you know CSR/ESG changes are on the horizon — and they are — make the general subject a comfortable one. Instead of chit-chat about the weather in those first few minutes as everyone gathers for a meeting, talk about CSR accomplishments or reduced environmental impacts (“we generated 30% less waste last year!”) instead.

Incorporate fun

Workers of all ilks have spent parts of the last year dousing themselves in sanitizer, wiping down grocery bags for fear of contamination, and walking about in a gloved and masked world. Let’s go with something light! Quick messages, pushed out via your organization’s internal communications system, can be both effective and day brightening.

It can be something as easy as a statistic about your own organization’s accomplishments: “Did you know we reduced water usage by 15% last year? That translates to $30K in savings.” But don’t just shower recipients with data. Make a request: What are your ideas for how we might do even better?

Intersperse those lighter missives with more serious compliance-related ones. They can still be engaging. List five ways to recognize bribery or identify three ways to increase cultural awareness. Or pose a moral dilemma — an integral ingredient of a product can be sourced either from a nation that is clearcutting its rain forests or from one that engages in strip mining — then ask, “what would you do”? Keep the CSR/ESG conversation going.

Make it real

As circumstances and employment laws allow, introduce CSR commitments into your organization’s performance appraisal process. This can both signal your organization’s seriousness about CSR issues and gain some ground-up support for them.

Guide employee learning

Anyone who has worked seriously in this arena knows how complicated and complex compliance with CSR/ESG requirements can be. Begin building your workforce’s knowledge base to manage the change that is coming. Offering microlearning opportunities or short introductory courses now can create a foundation your employees will need to build on soon.

If a workforce has been talking about and contemplating CSR/ESG all along, then layering on top some additional compliance requirements — when they do finally arrive — will seem a natural progression.

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Thomson Reuters Regulatory Intelligence and Compliance Learning
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