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[Ed. note: This is the second in a series of blogs on simplifying ESG/sustainability business value. Part 1 is here]

The rise in investor interest in ESG has been a double edged sword. It lifted the profile of ESG/sustainability to unprecedented levels, but it also skewed thinking towards satisfying capital markets more than finding basic operational benefits. Companies tend to focus on external reporting/disclosure metrics and frameworks so much that they miss out on real gains internally. But that may be changing. I’m reading and hearing more about companies and their investors taking hard looks at corporate profitability and ROI tied to ESG. That just makes sense – we need to walk before we run, get the internal value in order and the story straight before looking to capital markets for ESG validation.

The words “risks and opportunities” echo loudly in ESG circles, but most talk seems to emphasize risk. In many cases, however, more focus should be on opportunities – operational business fundamentals: hard dollar benefits in basic, simple, incontrovertible terms. Operational opportunities consist of new revenue sources as well as expense reductions. Practical ESG/sustainability initiatives can provide both. New revenues/markets can be opened by determining customer key buying criteria based in ESG/sustainability matters – then moving on that. Cost savings are directly tied to resource use reductions, efficiency gains or lower expenses. Obviously, changes in revenues and expenses directly impact profits.

In each of these components – risks, opportunities, revenue and expenses – there are two primary elements: current actuals and predictions of the future. Therefore, we can expand the basic formula set out in Part 1 like this:

This underlying structure truly sets the stage for how companies should think about creating internal value of ESG programs and initiatives, which will become increasingly clear through this series. The next blogs separate risks and opportunities and drill deeper on each. The final installment will tie everything to this formula and should bring you to an “Aha!” moment if you didn’t already have it before we end the series.

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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