Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been around since the 1950’s but its origins were basically a response tactic. So when companies were called out for bad behaviour, for example if they caused a massive oil spill, they would respond and try to make amends. In the case of an oil spill they might make a big donation to an environmental group. In its early days CSR was essentially a marketing tactic, or the friendly face of capitalism.
Over the ensuing decades we saw improvements in some industries with more genuine commitment to recognise their environmental and societal impact. Companies invested in local community initiatives, they committed to more ethical sourcing of raw supplies, and in more recent years they’ve had a firmer focus on their environmental impact.
This is all good, but as we know more needs to be done. But just as there is a societal need for change there is also a business opportunity that needs to be quantified and addressed.
The pressure on business to behave more responsibly has a very real commercial imperative. Investors expect greater visibility of the social and environmental impact, governments are handing down increasing regulation and taxes to limit carbon emissions, and more socially conscious consumers are voting with their wallets. And as we’ve discussed before at bpe search, attracting diverse talent is a sustainability issue.
The seriousness with which business is taking these changes means that more and more are investing in roles at a very senior level in environmental, social and governance issues. CSR has become ESG. And it’s not just large corporations that are doing this, we are increasingly seeing this investment in SME’s as well.
But this increased focus on ESG is relatively new so what sort of talent and experience should you be looking for?
There isn’t really an optimal background for someone in this role. We are seeing candidates from environmental, commercial, comms, and HR backgrounds all transition successfully into ESG roles, but there are a couple of caveats. There was a time when technical and scientific experience was favoured, due to the complexities of understanding a business’s environmental impact. This does continue to hold for certain environments, such as in manufacturing, where there are specific challenges around carbon neutrality and ethical sourcing. In addition, hiring someone who has experience of taking a business through a progressive accreditation process (e.g B-Corp or Fair Trade) would probably be an advantage.
But for many business models this specific expertise is not necessary and there is a growing pool of experts to draw upon when advising a company on the effects of its social and environmental policies. The skills you should really look for are those of communication and influence. Whilst a functional background may be relevant for some industry sectors it’s important to note that ESG impacts all business operations. So, having someone in a leadership position who, drawing on centres of expertise, can win hearts and minds, influence policy decision making and have the passion to inspire lasting change is what you need.
The seniority of these roles inspires confidence that companies are taking this seriously, which is good news to us all.