8 leaders at Davos 2022 explain how business can deliver on ESG promises

By Sarita Nayyar, Managing Director; Chief Operating Officer, USA, World Economic Forum | May 25, 2022
  • ESG – Environmental, Social and Governance – reporting is increasingly essential – and even required.
  • Yet, without definitive standards, sustainability reporting remains complex – and a barrier to progress.
  • As Davos 2022 gets underway, business leaders provide insights on how companies can track and deliver on ESG promises.

There are, allegedly, $2.7 trillion in assets now managed in more than 2,900 ESG funds. No wonder the FT’s Gillian Tett describes auditors and accountants as suddenly “wildly trendy”.

Despite growing momentum toward a coherent system for corporate disclosure, tracking and measuring ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) commitments and performance remains uneven.

Academics at MIT Sloan School of Management say the lack of standardization on ESG scoring is leading to “aggregate confusion,” according to a recent report. This calls for greater attention to how the data underlying ESG ratings is generated.

The World Economic Forum’s Measuring Stakeholder Capitalism: Towards Common Metrics and Consistent Reporting of Sustainable Value Creation, launched in 2020, enabled businesses to track their contributions towards the SDGs on a consistent basis. But confusion persists.

Brightstar’s Maha Eltobgy and Janine Guillot from the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) explain: “For too long, markets around the world have been ill-equipped to efficiently price the risks and opportunities related to a raft of shared social and environmental challenges, from climate change and resource constraints to economic inequality and racial injustice. To ensure resilience and drive towards progress, a coherent, comprehensive system of corporate disclosure is needed.”

We’re seeing signs of movement in this direction. The International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB), established at COP26 to develop a comprehensive global baseline of sustainability disclosures for capital markets, has launched a consultation on its first two proposed standards. The final requirements are expected to help meet the information needs of investors in assessing enterprise value.

Ahead of the Forum’s 2022 Annual Meeting in Davos, we asked business leaders how they are navigating the current complexities of ESG reporting and delivering on sustainability promises – here’s what they said.

Work towards ‘globally consistent ESG standards’ – Punit Renjen, CEO, Deloitte Global

Helping address the climate crisis may be the defining challenge of our lifetime. While governments and social institutions have important roles to play, business has the opportunity to lead the change the world needs now. Seizing that opportunity requires taking meaningful action – and reporting on it.

Currently, companies use an array of voluntary sustainability reporting frameworks. However, without the adoption of consistent standards, it is difficult for stakeholders to make the “apples to apples” comparisons that are critical for capital investments and understanding companies’ impact. These voluntary frameworks can be a barrier to transparency, enabling selective reporting and potential greenwashing.

Deloitte and the other Big 4 collaborated with the World Economic Forum’s International Business Council to identify 21 existing ESG metrics used by leading standard setters to give businesses a common framework for evaluating impact. This marks an important step toward the ultimate goal of globally consistent ESG standards. Companies that measure their progress against these ESG metrics can position themselves to create greater long-term value for stakeholders.

Deloitte continues to deliver on its ESG commitments – both within our organization and in collaboration with clients through our Deloitte Sustainability & Climate practice, which helps companies define their path to a more sustainable future.

‘Elevate the S agenda and leverage social reporting’ – John Schultz, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, Hewlett Packard Enterprise

When it comes to ESG, Environment and Governance issues are relatively easy to define in comparison to the Social dimension. When it comes to Social, there are questions around what’s best to measure and how to capture company performance with a lack of data.

It’s time we elevate the “S” agenda and leverage social reporting to accelerate business transformation in ways that advance responsibility throughout our value chains. I recommend three urgent steps:

1. Shift ESG considerations from compliance to value-creation by explicitly understanding how your company’s core business can concurrently contribute to social outcomes.

2. Ensure a social impact lens is embedded throughout your value chain beyond your direct workforce and supply chain, from responsible product design to how products can be used for good.

3. Build trust with the right stakeholders by identifying the right goals and metrics and ensure engagement and governance all the way to the Board level.

Applying these principles, Hewlett Packard Enterprise has embraced our responsibility to develop and sell responsible technology, including through our AI Ethical Principles and by contributing our solutions to social outcomes like accelerating COVID-19 treatments. We hope to build momentum to help drive greater transparency for input performance indicators — such as social impact investments — and outcome indicators that measure the results on society.

‘Effective ESG strategies require top-down driven change’ – Laura M. Cha, Chair, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEX)

Investors are mobilizing around ESG. At the end of 2021, Morningstar estimated that global sustainable funds’ AUM reached US$2.74 trillion.

But a lack of credible and comparable data, and the risk of greenwashing, remains a barrier to both progress and investing that capital in companies driving the low-carbon transition.

Effective ESG strategies require top-down-driven change to oversee and assess an organization’s environmental and social impact.

As HKEX Chair, I see this as my responsibility, and that of the Board, to develop a clear ESG, sustainability and climate vision.

Leaders must understand the impact of ESG on an organization’s operating model, align themselves with stakeholders’ expectations and enforce a materiality assessment and reporting process.

As a regulator, we have been promoting ESG among our 2,500+ listed companies by ending single-gender boards, requiring disclosure of ESG KPIs and educating issuers about ESG principles via our ESG Academy.

As a market operator, we have created platforms providing information, access and transparency on a wide range of sustainable, green and social investment products, like green bonds.

As a corporate, we joined the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), pledged to reach net zero by 2050, and made full carbon emissions disclosures in our annual CSR report.

Through HKEX Foundation, our charitable arm, we help invigorate our communities and drive societal change, raising over HK$138 million in 2021 to fund community projects to help needy individuals.

‘What gets measured gets done’ – Bill Thomas, CEO, KPMG

Consistent and transparent financial reporting standards have helped investors measure business success for decades, but we need to expand their scope to mobilize the power of capital markets to help build a more sustainable future. What gets measured gets done, and with the launch of the ISSB and the publication of its first proposed standards, we’re that much closer to achieving transparency of sustainability performance.

KPMG just released its first update to Our Impact Plan, a catalogue of our organization’s ESG commitments and a roadmap of how we’ll meet them. By using the World Economic Forum’s stakeholder metrics as a guide, we now have a much clearer understanding of our business and are having detailed conversations about where we need to go. And ultimately, we are making better decisions that I am sure will help to strengthen our global organization over the long term for the benefit of all our stakeholders.

As the world faces many serious challenges — from climate change and nature loss to social injustice and inequality – business has a responsibility to change, but also a real opportunity to lead on important issues that can help to shape future prosperity for all. Consistent and transparent sustainability reporting will certainly help, and the businesses that start today will be better off tomorrow.

We need a ‘science-based target approach’ to Social reporting, too- Ruth Harper, Chief Sustainability Officer, ManpowerGroup

We are inching closer to shared measurement around “Environment,” but when it comes to “Social” reporting, we are still at the beginning of this journey.

Metrics like the IBC’s Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics could be seen as another ingredient in the alphabet soup of reporting, but more optimistically interpreted as a significant nudge forward, helping to drive harmonization of standards, metrics and reporting and, ultimately, scale our collective impact.

We need a similar science-based target approach to the “Social” reporting as we have the “Environment” reporting – just without taking as many decades to do it!

The more CEOs, CFOs, CSOs and other business leaders leverage data that demonstrates target setting, milestone monitoring and progress reporting, the better. And importantly, the more our ambitions and achievements can be correlated with attracting and retaining the best talent while demonstrating business effectiveness and results, the better for ESG.

ManpowerGroup’s Working to Change the World Plan is fully aligned with our business plan to ensure we can deliver on our ESG promises. For E, we’re delivering on our validated science-based targets by addressing our scope 3 emissions and are currently piloting work to measure and ultimately reduce the environmental impact of our millions of associates we place into work every year.

There has been significant progress in standardizing reporting on ESG issues, but there is still a lot of work to be done if we are to use the tools of disclosure, metrics and ratings to encourage the kind and scope of action needed by the private sector.

And while there has been much discussion about the role of the corporation in society, the standards for measuring a company’s impact on society — the “S” of ESG —lag behind other metrics.

If we want to incentivize corporations to include the goal of progressing positive social impact in their business strategy, we need to develop metrics that reflect that.

That’s hard. It’s difficult to compare what one company does to broaden financial inclusion to what another might do to further education. Yet, that is precisely the type of commitment we want to encourage. It is going to take collective effort among companies, accounting firms, investors and regulators to get this right.

Even as we work toward that goal, one step we can each take is to embed sustainability goals into the core of our business and culture – that includes how we operate, what we measure and how we reward employees.

At Mastercard, our ESG strategy belongs to everyone. That’s why we recently announced that for all employees globally, we’re now linking compensation to specific, numerical targets linked to our ESG priorities: reducing emissions in accordance with our approved science-based targets, engaging with additional suppliers on their decarbonization, increasing financial inclusion and narrowing the median gender pay gap.

With shared accountability, we can better connect the “why” of our purpose to the “what” of our fundamental business strategy to ensure we deliver long-term growth for our shareholders, build trust with stakeholders and contribute to a more equitable and prosperous world. Together, we can work toward a sustainable, inclusive economy.

‘Document the financial impact of non-financial indicators’ – Daniel Schmid, Chief Sustainability Officer, SAP SE

For business leaders to make appropriate decisions for a company’s long-term success, they need access to comprehensive data and performance metrics that go beyond only financial measurements. This non-financial data enables holistic steering and reporting, providing the visibility required to mitigate negative ESG impact and increase positive ESG impact.

The broad range of reporting frameworks and standards, as well as national and transnational regulations, presents spiralling complexity which limits the ability to compare performance across companies and industries. Consolidation is needed to avoid ESG reporting becoming an end in itself and distracting companies from investing their resources in sustainable value creation.

Double materiality assessments enable leaders to regain focus by identifying a company’s key social and environmental impacts to be addressed. Additionally, applying an impact measurement methodology like that from the Value Balancing Alliance allows the calculation of ESG impacts in monetary terms which can be integrated into business decision-making.

Documenting the financial impact of non-financial indicators has helped SAP move closer to achieving our sustainability goals. The approach paves the way to achieving goals like our commitment to net-zero emissions by 2030. Our impact measurement experiences also feed into our investments in digital technology and solutions, such as the SAP Sustainability Control Tower, to provide transparency and reporting with greater speed and accuracy.

‘Consistent, comprehensive and transparent reporting’ – Scott Tew, Vice President, Center for Energy Efficiency & Sustainability, Trane Technologies

With a heightened focus on how companies combat climate change – particularly reporting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – businesses of all sizes must prioritize producing consistent, transparent and measurable sustainability performance data, holding them accountable for environmental progress with the same vigor as with financial performance.

ESG reporting is one of the most impactful avenues for Trane Technologies to demonstrate actionable progress toward our 2030 Sustainability Commitments, as well as long-term environmental and social targets. The 2021 ESG report, Transform Tomorrow, Today, also details our decision to link executive and senior leader compensation to ESG metrics, including emissions reductions, women in management and diversity.

With a longstanding history of industry leadership in voluntarily delivering comprehensive and informative data for investors, customers, employees, NGOs and other stakeholders, our annual ESG report adheres to more frameworks – including the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and the World Economic Forum Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics – than any other company in the sector. This provides a deeper level of transparency for diverse stakeholders seeking to understand and review our performance, processes and data – and their link to the company’s strategy and broader societal narrative.

Many companies have yet to calculate their entire emissions footprint, with others selectively sharing only portions of their environmental and social impact data. We urge business around the world to join us in dedicating the resources necessary for consistent, comprehensive and transparent reporting – enabling a more environmentally and socially conscious future for generations to come.

This article was first published by the World Economic Forum.


COP27: Day 10

Across the two weeks, non-State actors offered a wide range of actions, announcements, and events across thematic areas. This included the launch of the African Cities Water Adaptation Fund, an African-led insurance commitment to provide cover for up to USD 14 billion in climate losses, and the Sharm-El-Sheik Adaptation Agenda in partnership with the COP27 Presidency.