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Keeping you in-the-know on environmental, social and governance developments

Eliminating jargon, acronyms and abbreviations in ESG/sustainability communications is a major theme for us at This is becoming more important because corporate sustainability/ESG disclosures suffer from verbosity and a lack of clarity. Of course, various reporting frameworks and regulations guide content – but when it comes to writing style, ESG/sustainability professionals tend to default to overly-formal and overly-legal language and sentence structures.

Why? Just because a disclosure is a legal obligation doesn’t mean it has to be written so formally that is incomprehensible. When I helped companies draft and edit their conflict minerals reports (CMR), I usually asked if the company wanted to use the CMR to tell a story or meet regulatory requirements. The question was about the amount of content to include more than the writing style, but that question is more relevant today for corporate ESG/sustainability disclosures broadly.

It brings to mind something I read many years ago in an airline magazine. A senior level attorney reflected on the evolution of his own professional communication style by comparing the first legal memo he wrote in the 1970s to his style at the time of the article. He was a little embarrassed that the memo’s language was overly complicated and obfuscated the meaning. That is the lens we should all take to ESG/sustainability reports and disclosures.

Luckily, there are resources and tools available to help ESG/sustainability professionals (and lawyers in that space) communicate in plain language. As a start, Center for Plain Language and International Plain Language Federation (yes those are real things) are organizations that exist to increase the use of plain language. The Center for Plain Language has a checklist Five Steps to Plain Language that is helpful. Among the points in the checklist:

  • Use a conversational, rather than legal or bureaucratic tone
  • Use words the audience knows

Further, did you know there is an ISO Standard for plain language? Honestly, I’m highly conflicted about that – if you are familiar with ISO standards, you will understand the thick irony there. We continue to emphasize simplicity and clarity and we have some compelling new member resources coming soon!

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile