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The Best Time to Start the ESG Journey Was Yesterday

Amanda Fennell

“A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”

These wise words from the timeless Chinese proverb still echo true today in the business realm.

One new journey many businesses—big and small—have embarked on recently is the journey of environmental, social, and governance (ESG for short) responsibility. The goal of ESG initiatives is to put the interests of your employees first so that you are better positioned to respond to the dynamic culture in which businesses operate today, and make more sound strategy decisions in the process.

While the journey is not an easy one and some of the road is undefined, I believe that the destination is a worthwhile one. I’m proud that Relativity has already taken the first steps on this journey; here’s why—and how—you should consider joining the adventure. 

What is ESG and Why Should You Care?

ESG is a formalized term to help summarize habits many businesses already have, to better align their businesses processes and priorities with the topics and issues that matter to their workforce and consumers. ESG focuses on hot-button issues like:

  • Environmental | climate change, carbon emission reduction, sustainable business practices​
  • Social | gender and diversity inclusion, community relations, income inequity, and mental health issues​
  • Governance | oversight of risk management plus, environmental, social, health and safety components 

These topics are a common part of modern corporations’ strategic discussions as they seek to optimize operations, increase efficiencies, and minimize oversights. Not surprisingly, of course, these issues are also top-of-mind for consumers and employees. In fact, 83 percent of millennials—today’s largest consumer group—want brands to align with their values. A survey from Gartner, “Optimizing Communications for Changing Stakeholder Expectations,” also found 74 percent of employees expect companies to take a stand on societal issues. On a larger scale, there is more than $17 trillion in ESG-related investments in play in the U.S.—and that number is growing consistently.

So even if the subjects aren’t on your radar yet, they’re on your employees’ and customers’ minds—which means they should be on your docket, too.

3 Tips for Getting Started

Starting the ESG journey at your organization can make you more competitive in your market, offer a more appealing landing spot for top talent, and present your brand identity as a more forward-facing company that is better suited to deal with the uncertainty of tomorrow.

Financially, turning your operational focus towards ESG priorities and more sustainable business practices can reduce operating costs by up to 60 percent.

And then there’s the obvious: it’s also just the right thing to do.

As chief security officer and chief information officer at Relativity, further implementing ESG processes into Relativity is a core focus of my 2022 priorities. While every organization will be different in how they plan, structure, and track against implementation of ESG principles, they are a few things every company can do that should help you take your first step. Here are the three that are top of mind for me.

#1: Be honest about the current state of things.

To begin, complete an honest assessment of where you are in your ESG journey, what you’re already doing, and what processes, programs, and skillsets you might already have on hand that can help you start this initiative.

Given my role, I already know that, at Relativity, we have a strong compliance program in place and plan to use our existing information, security, risk, and privacy (ISRP) program as both the pillar of our G in the ESG equation, and as a way to better track and manage the other programs and processes we put in place to address the E and S pillars.

In your organization, look for opportunities like this to use what you already have in service of your ESG goals—it’s a much easier pill to swallow when you’re not suggesting everything be thrown out the window and built up again from scratch.

#2: Create accountability mechanisms to help accelerate progress.

Next, you need to implement accountability for tracking against ESG measures at all levels of the company. Baking in these roles will help ensure the project maintains momentum and instills a sense of ownership across your organization.

For us, that meant giving each pillar an executive sponsor who can provide high-level guidance and support; a functional lead, who is the key leader and decision maker on relevant items; and a workgroup, who are responsible for the day-to-day tasks that drive the pillar forward.

Having all three functions in place ensures that you can drive accountability from both the top-down and bottom-up through quarterly and monthly check-ins.  

#3: Inspire your team with an intentional communications strategy.

The third, and perhaps most fundamental, thing you need to do is inspire urgency and energy within your company. These types of initiatives don’t succeed if your team doesn’t feel invested.

While sharing data and evidence that show the positive impacts of ESG can be a good starting point, the best way to drive your company forward on this path is by connecting ESG to your core values and company vision. You need to describe in clear detail how ESG can be a driving force for good—how this work can ultimately help improve the lives of your employees, customers, and stakeholders.

At Relativity, we consistently communicate the progress we’re making towards our ESG goals through company-wide all-hands meetings, internal communications, and simple Slack messages. Engaging frequently, across multiple channels, with our team helps invite their engagement and hold us accountable for the work we’re doing. We’ve recently made it a point to start talking about it with our customers, too.

Only with this imperative interest will we be able to take the first steps toward a friendlier business future. I hope you will join us.

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Amanda Fennell is chief security officer and chief information officer at Relativity. In her role, Amanda is responsible for championing and directing our tech and security strategy, including risk management and compliance practices. She has a masters degree in forensic science, and has 15+ years of experience in forensics and cybersecurity.