Paying attention to the three pillars of ESG communications, namely, the foundation, the sustainability report, and the supplemental communications, and following highly credible ESG frameworks are two best practices that B2B companies can follow when communicating ESG information to investors and ESG rating agencies.
Pay Attention to the Three Pillars of ESG Communications
- Companies that wish to communicate their ESG information effectively to investors and ESG rating agencies are advised to follow a three-part formula that involves paying attention to the three pillars of ESG communications, namely, the foundation, the sustainability report, and the supplemental communications. Essentially a list of best practices for effective ESG communications, this three-part formula was developed by thinkPARALLAX, a California-based agency specializing in sustainability communications and branding. The figure below shows a visual representation of this formula.
- thinkPARALLAX has published a white paper detailing this three-part formula. The company wrote this white paper with no specific type of company in mind, so it can be assumed that the best practices listed in this white paper can be applied to both B2C and B2B companies.
- According to this white paper, effective ESG communications start with a strong foundation. Companies can build a solid foundation for their ESG communications by clearly defining and identifying their brand narrative, stakeholders, material ESG issues, ESG goals, and plans to achieve these goals. To define their brand narrative, companies must understand and define their purpose, vision, mission, and values.
- Companies, especially those that wish to communicate their ESG information to investors and rating agencies, are advised to prepare sustainability reports even though they are not mandatory. Investors and rating agencies need granular details, and sustainability reports, otherwise known as corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports, ESG reports, impact reports, or citizenship reports, are a great tool that companies can use to communicate these granular data and metrics. Case studies and in-depth stories are more appropriate for other audiences such as customers and employees.
- For a sustainability report to be effective, it must demonstrate commitment, transparency, progress, credibility, and accessibility. It must have the following elements: leadership alignment, clear strategy, management of material issues, focus on stakeholders, progress toward targets and goals, ethical business practices, and future projects or efforts. Sixty-four percent of shareholders demand “clear and substantive disclosure reporting,” so preparing a well-organized comprehensive report is important.
- Rating agencies and investors typically look beyond the sustainability report and the foundation for clues about a company’s ESG performance, so it is important for companies to have a holistic communications strategy. Messaging should be consistent across all communications and disclosures, including SEC filings, quarterly reports, earnings calls or transcripts, analyst questionnaires, code of conduct, corporate website, leadership announcements and news, advertisements, responses to legislation or regulation, political contributions, and sustainability stories, and press releases about partnerships with organizations or the government.
- Companies should also be mindful of public sentiment, as it is also taken into consideration by investors and rating agencies. To steer the public narrative in the desired direction, companies can apply proactively for awards, encourage employees to post reviews, partner with non-government organizations, and integrate their ESG strategy and marketing strategy.
- Salesforce is one example of a B2B company that has a holistic ESG communications strategy. Its latest stakeholder impact report can be seen here.
- California-based Salesforce is a member of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices and is one of the most sustainable companies identified by Barron’s. MSCI also gave Salesforce an ESG rating of AAA, the highest possible ESG rating, in 2018 and 2019.
- In determining ESG ratings, MSCI focuses on 37 key ESG issues related to climate change, natural resources, pollution and waste, environmental opportunities, human capital, product liability, stakeholder opposition, social opportunities, corporate governance, and corporate behavior.
Follow Highly Credible ESG Frameworks
- Companies that wish to communicate ESG information effectively are advised to follow ESG frameworks that investors find most credible. In the United States, the most valued ESG frameworks appear to be the ESG frameworks provided by the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), the Paris Climate Accord, and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP).
- Broadridge, a New York-based company that specializes in investor communications, recently commissioned a survey of shareholders. Based on this survey, the ESG frameworks provided by the SASB, the Paris Climate Accord, and the CDP are the ESG frameworks that ranked the highest in terms of credibility and usefulness among investors in North America. The chart below shows the percentage of shareholders in North America that consider these frameworks very credible and useful.
- Fifty percent of shareholders in North America find the SASB framework very credible and useful. For the Paris Climate Accord and CDP frameworks, the percentages are 46% and 44%, respectively.
- Companies that are planning to prepare their first ESG report are especially advised to use at least one ESG reporting framework. They should choose the framework/s that are best suited to their business and the needs of their stakeholders. It is possible for a company to use multiple ESG reporting frameworks.
- Washington-based Microsoft, another B2B company that is highly rated by MSCI, is an example of a company that uses the CDP framework. As can be seen in its latest CSR report, Microsoft responds to the annual CDP climate change and water questionnaires. MSCI gave Microsoft an ESG rating of AAA, the highest possible rating, in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.
While there are a number of recently published articles and reports in the public domain that list best practices for communicating ESG information to investors and ESG rating agencies, including those published by thinkPARALLAX and Broadridge, none of these sources have any information specific to B2B companies. As a workaround, we looked for B2B companies that were recently given high ESG ratings or were recently recognized for their ESG communications. We figured that if these B2B companies were highly rated by an ESG rating agency or were awarded for their ESG communications, the way these B2B companies have communicated their ESG information can be considered best-in-class. We examined these B2B companies’ ESG communications to determine if they follow best practices that were listed by experts or authorities in ESG communications.
Media Consumption: Decision Makers at ESG Ratings Agencies
Most decision-makers at ESG rating agencies consume significantly less traditional media and consume more digital media spending a lot of time on social media, video, ads, and news content.
- According to AASHE, most sustainability executives fall in the 30-39 years age set and, this implies they are mostly millennials. Also, the demographic and psychographic profile of decision-makers at ESG rating agencies shows that they are mostly millennials.
- Millennials consume significantly less traditional media and are continuing to change away from traditional media and their rate of change is faster and more fundamental than for older generations.
Types of Channels
- Millennials tend to spend more time accessing web and app content with their smartphones, as app/web usage accounts for 29% of their daily media time.
- Among millennials, the monthly national TV and digital news reach are high at 95%.
- The uptake of new digital media platforms is significantly higher as millennials consume a lot of video content on social media platforms.
Types of Content
- Millennials consume different types of content like social media, video, ads, and news.
- There is a strong interest in OTT bundles from millennials, as at least 85% of millennials subscribe to at least one OTT video service.
- Millennials are heavy digital video news consumers as 36% consume digital-only news, while 56% consume both TV & digital news.
- According to eMarketer, online media consumption among millennials will reach 65.1 million by 2020.
The demographic and psychographic profile of decision-makers at ESG rating agencies shows that they are mostly millennials. Based on these profiles, the research team determined the media consumption habits of the decision-makers at ESG Rating Agencies. We assumed that the demographic and psychographic items apply to the decision-makers at ESG rating agencies, and summarized the media consumption habits of this group.
Psychographic Profile: Decision Makers at ESG Ratings Agencies
Most decision-makers at ESG rating agencies value innovation, identify with the latest technology on the market, make decisions based on others’ experience, and spend about 11 hours each week listening to the radio. They are not extravagant spenders but they are willing to purchase what they feel is important.
- The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) indicates that most executives in ESG rating agencies executives are aged between 30 and 49 years.
- AASHE reports that women executives form about 59% of ESG rating agencies and Comparably indicates that the average annual income for sustainability executives is about $143,000.
- According to Vault, most sustainability executives have a university degree, including bachelors, masters, and doctorate, and the degrees are in most cases related to environmental sciences.
- We relied on these demographics for sustainability executives to create their psychographic profile.
Psychographic Profile of Millennials
- According to AASHE, most sustainability executives fall in the 30-39 years age set and this implies they are mostly millennials.
- Millennials value innovation and they tend to identify with the latest technology on the market, for example, millennials will love to own the latest iPhone on the market.
- Millennials mostly make decisions based on others’ experience, for example, they are likely to love a particular grocery shop based on a recommendation from a friend.
- According to WordStream, about 93% of millennials in the US love listening to the radio, and they spend about 11 hours listening to the radio each week.
Psychographic Profile of the Highly Educated
- Vault indicated that most sustainability executives are highly educated and they mostly have degrees in courses related to environmental sciences.
- According to NPR, most highly educated Americans are very liberal on several societal issues, including partisan politics and socialization.
Psychographic Profile of the Upper Class
- According to CNBC, Americans are classified into the low, middle, and upper classes based on income and household size. For example, a household of one with an income of about $78,000 per annum will be considered upper-class.
- Based on the report provided by Comparably, most sustainability executives are in the upper class, assuming they have households of not more than two people.
- According to Instapage, most upper-class Americans earned their wealth through hard work and they know that effort brings reward. They are not extravagant spenders but they are willing to purchase what they feel they need to have.
The demographic profile of decision-makers at ESG rating agencies shows that they are mostly millennials and they earn about $143000 annually. Most decision-makers at ESG rating agencies are highly educated. Your research team based on this demographic profile to determine the psychographic profile of the decision-makers. We assumed that the psychographic items derived from each of the demographics apply to people of all professions, including decision-makers at ESG rating agencies.
Demographic Profile: Decision Makers at ESG Ratings Agencies
The decision makers at ESG rating agencies are typically highly educated white females in their late 30s who earn six-figure salaries.
- Although ESG rating agencies vary dramatically in format from NGOs to research conglomerates, the decision makers at the top of these organizations are typically sustainability executives, according to Sustainable Insight Capital Management.
- Notably, these sustainability directors and chiefs are generally in their late 30s, per latest research from The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).
- Specifically, sustainability executives are most commonly between the ages of 30 to 39 years old (37%), while a significant portion (31%) are between the ages of 40 and 49 years old.
- In parallel, AASHE reports that these decision makers are typically female (59%), while a large subset identify as male (38%) and only a small minority identify with a different gender identity (3%).
- Notably, this represents a significant shift from 2012, when PWC found that sustainability executives were evenly split between men and women.
- The average income level for sustainability executives in the US is approximately $143,109, according to Comparably.
- However, estimates for the salaries of these leaders vary dramatically from as little as $80,000 per year (e.g., Glassdoor, ZipRecruiter) to just over $200,000 per year (e.g., Salary.com, OwlGuru).
- Notably, more detailed, industry-specific analysis by Recruiter.com suggests that decision makers at ESG rating agencies likely earn closer to $200,000 per year in the United States.
- Sustainability executives are generally highly educated, according to industry experts (e.g., AASHE, CareerOneStop, Vault).
- Not only do the decision makers at ESG rating agencies almost always have a Bachelor’s degree, but 64% have a Master’s degree and an additional 21% have a Doctoral degree.
- These degrees are most commonly in the areas of environmental studies and sciences (23%) and sustainability (9%).
- Meanwhile, available research from AASHE indicates that the large majority of sustainability executives are either white (88%) or prefer to not disclose their race (3%).
- Less than 5% of decision makers at ESG rating agencies are mixed race, while less than 3% are Asian, Hispanic, Black or from another race/ethnicity.
Important rating companies have established criteria to determine if a company is an ESG leader. In the financial industry overall, corporate governance, sustainable finance, and codes of business conduct stand out as some of the most important issues to be considered. Activities involving efficient use of resources and benefits for employees are some of the most commonly seen among ESG leaders. B2B companies benchmarking their ESG initiatives could follow a cycle of diagnosing, comparison, data analysis, and actions.
Leadership for B2B Companies in ESG
- The Dow Jones Sustainability™ World Index includes companies that are considered sustainability leaders according to SAM. In total, this index is composed of the top 10% of 2,500 worldwide companies.
- According to the index created by SAM, an S&P’s company, institutions in the area of diversified financial services are evaluated according to certain criteria to determine their position as leaders.
- Some items with the heaviest weight for a company in this industry to be considered an ESG leader include their score in corporate governance, sustainable finance, codes of business conduct, climate strategy, human capital development, and talent attraction and retention.
- Other criteria include risk & crisis management, labor practice indicators, financial inclusion, and anti-crime policy & measures.
- It is important to note that companies around the world have rated SAM as the most useful rating tool when it comes to rating their ESG programs and initiatives. Therefore, their criteria are accepted globally to identify ESG leaders in any industry.
- Similarly, MSCI is a finance company that has the goal of bringing transparency into the financial world. One of their activities includes rating investment funds according to the ESG programs of the companies these funds are involved with.
- According to MSCI, funds leading in this area invest in companies that have a strong management of governance issues as well as social and environmental matters. In addition, MSCI identifies these companies as better prepared to withstand ESG-related problems.
- When it comes to benchmarking, according to McKinsey, companies consider that ESG programs can help to improve the financial performance of a corporation.
- This is achieved by improving the image and reputation of the company, attracting and retaining important talent, and making the company open to new growth opportunities.
- Complying with regulations and the expectations of the industry is one of the main benchmarks for companies implementing ESG programs according to this McKinsey survey.
- SAM performs an annual assessment on ESG programs in companies all over the world. This group proposes a benchmarking cycle that companies can use to assess their ESG goals.
- This cycle starts with a diagnostic assessment, followed by an adequate comparison with competitors, the analysis of the data obtained, and the establishment of a plan to follow.
Activities Performed by ESG Leaders
- ESG leaders are involved in numerous activities. According to Corporate Citizenship, ESG leaders invest in energy and water conservation and overall efficient use of resources.
- Other aspects in which these companies invest include benefits for workers such as providing sick pay and guidance during health events, and in issues that might represent any type of governance, social, or environmental risk.
- According to the firm Russell Reynolds, companies wanting to be ESG leaders would need to focus on activities related to climate change, human rights, and sustainability as these are the three main concerns of shareholders.
- At a more internal level, the Principles for Responsible Investment published by the UNEP Finance Initiative and the United Nations Global Compact, propose other considerations to be taken into account for a company to become an ESG leader.
- This report states that dynamic communication between corporations and its investors is key for the completion of ESG initiatives.
- In addition, establishing learning dynamics about ESG across the company in question is also a pivotal point. Lastly, creating political value through political dynamics within the company helps to facilitate relationships between investors.
- An example of a B2B company leading in ESG activities is Microsoft. Some aspects that allow it to be considered a leader in this area include important investments in cybersecurity.
- However, there are other activities performed by this company in the ESG sector. These refer to the benefits received by employees, which include resources for professional development, fair pay, and diversity training.
- Other activities performed by this company have to do with the environment and the investments made in renewable energy to run data centers owned by the company. This corresponds with the activities previously identified as performed by ESG leaders.
ESG Case Studies
This research provides an overview of two financial lending companies — American Family Insurance and Cerberus — and the ways in which each of them markets their respective positions in the ESG space. As financial lenders, both of these organizations have opted to focus on complying with industry standards for ESG along every step of their investment processes. Each business has published annual ESG reports and figures that help to visualize the impact of their ESG initiatives on business, their communities, and the environment alike. Below is a breakdown of how each of these two financial businesses market their work with ESG initiatives, how they market this information, and metrics of success for these programs. The data used to compile this information was located specifically on each company’s website, as well as within their annual reports and ESG publications.
Case Study 1: American Family Insurance
Marketing ESG Initiatives
- The American Family Insurance company has landscape and water management programs in play as part of their ESG initiatives.
- AFI is LEED certified (Leadership in Environmental Energy Design), which means they have implemented water efficiency and quality standards among other strategies to showcase their efforts to be a sustainable organization.
- On AFIs web page for sustainability, the company details their action strategy for the year to prepare for environmental changes. The company makes a big effort here to be clear on the changes they are implementing to save the environment through technological advancements.
- By the year 2030, AFI has publicized that they plan to achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2030 to reduce the effects of climate change. The focus in this area by AFI is especially set on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, utilizing renewable energy sources, and landfill waste reductions.
Channels for Marketing ESG Initiatives
- The American Family Insurance company publishes an annual Corporate Responsibility Report that contains a detailed breakdown of how the business is building an ESG initiative, what the process involves, and outcomes of the project.
- AFI also publishes an annual Environmental Report to detail the practices they are implementing on a company-wide scale to help explain long-term goals for maintaining the environment during business practices.
- American Family Insurance company also created a Sustainability and Climate Action Strategy in 2019, which includes a roadmap strategy with specific goals for reducing waste.
- In 2019, AFI acquired the naming rights to the Milwaukee Brewers baseball stadium, Miller Park, which helps the company have a physical platform for promoting their goals in corporate social responsibility.
Outcomes of ESG Initiatives
- Through AFIs ESG initiatives, the company has diverted over 3,282 tons of waste from landfills, reaching a waste diversion rate of 90%.
- AFI has also recently installed 12 electric vehicle charging stations on campus to reduce pollution and promote environmentally friendly transportation.
- At the time of publishing in 2019, 60% of AFIs employees were part of an employee health and wellness program.
- Through AFIs ESG program, the company has awarded $832,500 worth of student scholarships and $1,208,307 worth of employee tuition support.
- The Steve Stricker American Family Insurance Foundation has donated $15 million and raised $2,404,000 to promote economic stability.
Case Study 2: Cerberus
Marketing ESG Initiatives
- On Cerberus” ESG webpage, the company directly states that they are focused on being forward-thinking when it comes to ESG matters, even if it does not completely align with the brand’s investment philosophy.
- Cerberus created an ESG evaluation tool for the company in 2017 that enables them to assess industry-specific indicators related to ESG initiatives, as a means to measure how the company is performing against best practices related to the matter.
- Cerberus has ESG initiatives in action right now that include food drives, foundation holiday raffles, reusable water bottle programs, diversion and inclusion webinars, and even programs focused on the blind.
Channels for Marketing ESG Initiatives
- Cerberus has an entire webpage on the company site dedicated to the work they are doing with ESG initiatives. The page specifically mentions that the company has been focused on ESG issues for the past 14 years, too.
- Cerberus has a dedicated ESG Committee that helps ensure the brand is being compliant at all points in the investment process.
- Every year, Cerberus publishes an ESG Impact Report that provides insights into how they, as a company, are focusing on ESG matters, as well as the progress that the different company initiatives are making on the environment and business actions.
- In their 2019 ESG Impact Report, Cerberus offers readers a QR code to scan to see the progress that the company has made over the last 14 years in implement ESG policy into every stage of their investment process.
Outcomes of ESG Initiatives
- In 2019, Cerberus reported 0 ESG incidents for the entire year.
- Cerberus achieved a 100% response rate to their company-wide ESG questionnaire.
- By the end of 2019, Cerberus had managed or was in the process of handling a total of 134 ESG projects across the company, including ones related to due diligence for ESG issues.
- The paper used to print Cerberus” ESG Impact Reports is made of 100% post-consumer waste, as well as being FSC-certified and made with wind power.
- Cerberus utilizes the GRESB, UN Global Compact Principles, and the PRI standards for checking their compliance with ESG initiatives.
- Through their ESG initiatives, Cerberus has managed to save 126,807 metric tons of CO2, as well as 39,553 metric tons of fuel.