Numerous ESG surveys have been published in the past months. This one from The ESG Collaborative of the law firm Thompson Hine provides additional views into how corporate counsel are responding to challenges faced by their companies. According to the results, around 50% of the attorneys responding to the survey work at companies – public and private – with ESG strategies already in place, so there is a solid experience base from which they could answer the questions.

Consistent with other information I’ve read:

  • The top four ESG standards that are, or will be, used by the respondents are SASB, GRI, TCFD and CDP. The list also included a few niche/industry specific standards.
  • There is a notable gap between public and private companies in terms of ESG disclosures:
    • 81% of public companies provide ESG disclosures, with 73% including quantitative metrics
    • 17% of private companies provide ESG disclosures, with 53% including quantitative metrics (some companies “publicly provide ESG disclosures” and some “publish a sustainability report” – the survey considered those to be distinct forms of disclosure which is why there is an apparent inconsistency in these percentages.)
  • 40% of all respondents stated they are, or will be, using third party assurance services for their ESG reporting. In my opinion, this number reflects future plans rather than current practices.
  • In a change from other survey results, the aggregated results rated climate change as the 8th-highest rank ESG disclosure topic, behind
    • diversity, equity and inclusion (95%)
    • Board oversight of environmental and sustainability issues (78%)
    • ethical business practices (75%)
    • community involvement/charitable giving (65%)
    • human rights issues (65%)
    • supply chain management (65%)
    • other environmental matters (63%)
  • Across all respondents, data collection and verification was the most significant challenge (50%) and staffing was third. For number two, the public/private difference emerged:
    • Public companies were concerned about regulations
    • Private companies were concerned about “green initiatives”

This is all good information, and a couple points I was intrigued by:

  • One commenter specifically mentioned the difficulties of putting internal control frameworks in place for ESG data because of the variety of data sources. This is something I am hearing more frequently these days.
  • In public companies, more than 70% of in-house counsel spend most of their time on ESG disclosures along with planning and strategy, yet only 48% spend significant time determining the standards or protocols to use. I expected that they would have more involvement on the front end.

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