Over the past few decades – and increasingly in the past few years – businesses have changed their values and strategies to show employees and investors what matters most to them. And, it goes beyond dollar signs. They are putting environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues at the heart of their priorities and business agendas.

In this episode of the PRovoke Media Podcast, Megan Miller, head of content partnerships at PRovoke Media, talks with Heather Kernahan, CEO of Hotwire Global Communications, about the paths and pitfalls to creating loyalty through environmental, social and corporate governance communications

“Traditionally, ESG was a term that investors used in their analysis to identify non-financial material risks and growth opportunities,” Kernahan said. “That's where it started. But in recent years, companies have really realized the positive business impacts of being a great environmental leader, a great social leader and a great governance leader.”

According to risk and compliance management consultancy NAVEX, as of 2020, 88% of publicly traded companies, 79% of venture and private equity-backed companies, and 67% of privately-owned companies had ESG initiatives in place. Further, according to data analytics firm FactSet, more than one in four S&P 500 companies that conducted earnings calls for Q4 2020 cited “ESG.” This represents a 63% increase in ESG mentions from the previous quarter, and the highest number of ESG mentions in the last 10 years. That’s a lot of ESG talk – so what if your company isn’t on that path yet?

“The best place for people to focus right now is the top-line narrative about what ESG is for their organization,” Kernahan said. “And that's where communicators can have a strategic role within the business and not be order takers of ESG. And I'd say if your communicator whose business is talking about ESG, but maybe hasn't put it on the priority list with your CEO, it’s an opportunity for you to bring it forward.”

Kernahan said that while communicators can get the ball rolling, the message ultimately has to come from the top.

“I think it really does need to start with your executive team because if you don't have the CEO and the executives running the business, the leadership team, building this into the business strategy, it may feel inauthentic and it might feel like a project versus a core part of your values moving forward,” she said.

Once the ESG framework is in place, it’s time for communicators to share the good work happening across the organization with the wider world. To do this, Kernahan said communicators should build ESG into their internal and external communications to enhance the company’s reputation, which will ultimately increase trust and loyalty.

Topics Covered:

0:00 Introductions

2:32: What if This is New to Me?

4:57: The History of ESG

7:57: Start with the Top-Line Narrative

9:57: Get Executives Involved

14:01: Consistency Between Internal and External Messaging is Always a Problem

15:37: Make Employees Part of the Strategy

20:51: Where Does This Fall in the Priority List for the Company?

22:10: You’re Likely Already Doing Great ESG Work (and Don’t Know it)