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How to Kick-start a Comprehensive ESG Program

Launch an ESG program in as little as six weeks with an industry-leading, pre-packaged software solution.

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March 2, 2021

Corporate sustainability and environmental, social and governance (ESG) programs are growing worldwide. Launching an ESG program for your organization requires a comprehensive approach involving the buy-in and cooperation of executives, management, employees and external stakeholders.

However, kick-starting your program will likely be easier than you think. With sustainability software, organizing and launching an ESG program becomes simple and straightforward. In this article, UL outline an approach to help get your sustainability program off the ground from as little as six weeks. 

Week 1: Assess your impacts and define your mission

First, determine the impacts your company has across ESG topics. This requires collaboration between the C-suite, managers, employees, and explicitly seeking the input of external stakeholders e.g. suppliers and customers. Then assess and determine realistic sustainability goals for your organization with reference to these impacts.  

While some organizations might address the environmental impact of their manufacturing, others may focus on social factors such as employee experience, business ethics or something else. Use this breakdown of ESG to outline the foundation for your goals:

  • Environment: How does your organization impact the globe? Consider supply chain sustainability, waste products, greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), water use, energy use and other ecological impacts.
  • Social: How do your operations affect the organization’s internal and external communities? Think through your customer needs and interests, employee human resources, sales ethics and practices, equity, and inclusion.
  • Governance: How do organizational leaders implement a sustainable, ethical and effective business model? Reflect on how the organization can pave the way for sustainable innovation in your industry, strengthen the business model and mitigate risks.

In some cases, the impacts and goals of your company will be obvious. At other times, however, your impacts will be hidden and require some research. Consider conducting a survey to help you gather a holistic understanding of your company’s needs.

From there, draft your mission for the company’s sustainability program and make sure that it broadly corresponds to your organization’s overall mission.

  1. An understanding that "Sustainability rests on a continuum"
  2. The need to "Identify your core purpose"
  3. The value that "Your employees are key"
  4. And the ability to "Learn how to talk about your sustainability program"

Week 2: Plan and strategize

Once you have determined your mission, map out the details for your sustainability strategy. This requires deciding upon which key performance indicators (KPIs) and related targets and you would like to track and report. It also means deciding which sustainability standards and frameworks to report to.

The KPIs you track and the disclosures you report will determine reporting logistics. For instance, if you are looking to track green house gas emissions (GHGs) and reduce your impact on climate change, you might choose to report to the  CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project). However, if you prioritize informing investors of climate change initiatives' financial impact, reporting to the Taskforce for climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) would be relevant.

After choosing KPIs and ESG reporting standards/frameworks, determine what data needs to be collected. This includes considering whether data comes from systems, meters, tests, inventory, participant surveys or other sources. You will also need to decide how data will be collected, who manages it, and how frequently it should be collected. Communicating these tracking efforts to the teams involved will help to ensure that the organization collaborates to support this sustainability initiative. 

Week 3: Implement the program

Now that you have mapped out the details the data collection can begin, remember to use your previous plans to implement this. Here’s where a software solution can significantly streamline processes, reduce manual effort and allow you to focus on the strategic issues.

Using a sustainability software program gives you one distinct location to input, manage and report all your ESG data. As your team collects data, make sure to check in and ask how the plan is progressing. If any difficulties arise, strategize together to re-attune your plans. It is key that employees across the organization see the importance of high data quality and accuracy in ESG data reporting, for example by providing utility bill scans to back up self-reported energy data, ensure this is effectively communicated up front. Once you collected and submitted your data, your sustainability software can do analyses such as carbon footprinting and KPI analysis for you.

Week 4: Validate results

Throughout your data collection and analysis, ensuring that your results are accurate is imperative. Sustainability software does this work for you by flagging inconsistencies in the data and notifying you when data looks incorrect or incomplete. Notifications can flag errors and request additional data to complete your data collection process.

After you have identified inconsistencies and finished troubleshooting, revisit your ESG data collection process. Now that you know the quirks and glitches, you can adjust the process to set yourself up for success in the future. This includes considering how long it takes to collect data and how frequently it should be collected.

Week 5: Calculate and report

After ironing out inconsistencies, you can complete data analysis and export an ESG data into a report. A robust sustainability software will do the work for you by auto-generating a report that shows the results and derivations for each metric. Some software will also highlight trends in the data. 

Many sustainability software solutions have templates that allow reporting to well-known reporting standards, such as CDP, SASB, and GRI. After these seamless assessments, you can consider the relevance of your results. Looking at the results in light of your organization and its sustainability mission, you can plan steps for improvement and change. Finally, you can now begin to write internal and external sustainability reports or add to your existing reporting, e.g., annual reporting.

Week 6: Transform

To take your program to the next level, determine which internal or external initiatives need to be launched to reach your ESG program goals (if they have not already been met). Consider the costs and resources required to attain your program targets, along with how they will be managed.

Then, you will need to communicate the results and next steps throughout your organization. Here ESG software can help by generating templates of the reports for communication. Using these templates, assign team members tasks that correspond to specific goals and each team member’s specialization. Engage your senior functional stakeholders, e.g., the head of manufacturing, by reminding them of the goals, showing where the organization is positioned on reaching those goals, and outlining how you will use this information to report externally.

Once you have finished, congratulate yourself and all the employees involved in contributing to a sustainable future. Remember, the best sustainability software will:

  • Provide advanced workflows for ESG data collection.
  • Track a wide range of KPIs across ESG topics.
  • Keep your data in a centralized location.
  • Allow for data import and integrations from other systems, e.g., enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.
  • Flag data inconsistencies.
  • Automate ESG tasks, e.g., carbon foot printing
  • Auto-generate reports for data analysis.
  • Report directly to the disclosure system ESG standards and frameworks of your choice automatically.

With an efficient software solution, your ESG program will be off the ground swiftly and without the hassle of manual tracking. To learn how UL 360 Sustainability Essentials can support your organization’s sustainability initiatives, read more at UL.com/360essentials

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