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

Another day, another new ESG risk pops up for companies. Usually, one sign that organizations are serious about backing up their ESG talk is to add headcount. Sure, that is an imperfect indicator of virtuous intent but it is usually signal that the company is willing to invest in their programs. There have been previous accusations of hiring ESG leaders and staff for window dressing, no doubt. But now it seems if you add ESG staff, you may face accusations being “scared” of activists rather than validating and being responsive to their concerns.

From The Guardian yesterday:

“Barclays has kicked off a search for a director to champion its climate efforts, after a bruising year in which the UK bank was targeted by campaigners over its environmental record. The high street lender recently closed applications for a climate communications director based in London, which is believed to be one of the most senior roles dedicated to coordinating its public response to climate pressures.

Campaigners said the creation of such a high-level climate communications role was a sign that Barclays was growing ‘scared’ of climate activists. Joanna Warrington, at Fossil Free London, said: ‘In recent years we’ve seen campaigning pressure expand beyond the oil giants like Shell and Equinor, on to banks and the massive funding they provide to companies building new oil and gas projects that would be impossible without it. Barclays is clearly scared. This new PR role is just another way for it to armour itself up.’

Richard Brooks, the climate finance director at the environmental group, said: ‘Major banks hiring senior staff as spin doctors to green their bad images on climate issues rather than actually tackling their fossil fuel financing is utterly sickening, given the deaths in Hawaii, fires in Canada’s Arctic and extreme heat all over North America.'”

Should this be a concern when adding ESG staff? Probably not, but at the same time it is best to know this criticism could arise. It is worth having an internal discussion or two to explore the level of sensitivity. If management – or perhaps even the board – feel it’s important enough, an external communications plan can be developed to respond to these types of accusations.

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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