Beyond spreadsheets: Building ESG from the ground up, not with data downloads

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Beyond spreadsheets: Building ESG from the ground up, not with data downloads

In the environmental, social and governance (ESG) realm, the allure of data is undeniable. Yet for many ESG officers, the quest for information takes a familiar but flawed approach: the dreaded Excel spreadsheet, sent out like a siren call to subsidiaries and business groups, demanding for data to be populated and consolidated. But hold your horses, ESG champions – this data-first approach misses the point.

The spreadsheet trap

• Data without direction

Imagine building a house by collecting bricks without a blueprint or foundation.That's essentially what data-driven spreadsheets do in ESG. Without robust programmes and systems in place to address key risks and opportunities,collected data lacks context and purpose. It becomes a meaningless pile of numbers – overwhelming and not insightful.

• The blame game

Pushing responsibility for data collection down to subsidiaries can create a blame game rather than a collaborative effort. Business units might feel burdened by additional reporting tasks, leading to incomplete or inaccurate data and jeopardising the entire exercise.

• The paper chase

Time spent chasing data in spreadsheets could be better invested in building stronger ESG programmes. Empowering risk owners at the business level to design and implement effective initiatives creates sustainable change, not just temporary data points.

Instead, build from the ground up

• Risk-based approach

Identify and prioritise key ESG risks specific to each business unit. This ensures resources are directed towards areas with the most significant impact,not lost in irrelevant data.

• Empowering the owners

Train and equip risk owners within business units to develop and implement programmes addressing their specific ESG challenges. This ownership fosters accountability and drives genuine progress, not just data filling.

• Systems for sustainability

Implement systems and technologies that automatically collect and track relevant data for each programme. This reduces manual effort, ensures data accuracy, and provides real-time insights into progress.

Data as a byproduct, not the goal

• Actionable insights

When programmes come first, data collection becomes purposeful. You gather the information needed to track progress, measure impact and inform continuous improvement, not just to report.

• Collaboration, not compliance

ESG should be a collaborative journey, not a compliance box-ticking exercise.By building from the ground up, different units learn from each other's programmes and best practices, leading to collective success.

• Transparency with trust

Authentic transparency goes beyond data dumps. It involves open communication about your ESG journey, acknowledging challenges and showcasing genuine efforts to improve. This fosters trust with stakeholders,who value authenticity over a polished facade of perfect metrics.

Your role as an ESG officer

• Guide and mentor

Instead of a data collector, you should be a programme builder and system designer. Guide business units in identifying risks, developing programmesand implementing efficient data collection systems.

• Communication catalyst

Facilitate information exchange and knowledge sharing between different units. Encourage collaboration and best practice adoption, creating a cohesive ESG framework across the organisation.

• Impact storyteller

Use the data generated by robust programmes to tell a compelling story of your organisation's ESG journey. Showcase progress, highlight challengesand inspire stakeholders to be part of the solution.

In conclusion, the path to genuine ESG success isn't paved with Excel spreadsheets, but with robust programmes and systems built from the ground up. By empowering risk owners, investing in sustainable solutions and prioritising action over data collection, ESG officers can transform their role from data gatherers to impact creators, leading their organisations towards a truly sustainable future. Remember, data is a powerful tool, but only when driven by purpose, ownership and a commitment to genuine change.

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