More and more organizations are realizing that having an effective environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy will make them stronger, more resilient, and more attractive to all stakeholders. This comes at a time when there are multiple ESG issues are peaking in urgency, impact, and awareness. So, it’s on the top of leaderships’ agendas. But how it’s executed and what role public relations plays is still fuzzy for some. 

In the first installation of this two-part series, Sylvie Harton, senior vice president of strategy and global head of PR and IR solutions at Notified, shared what makes a purpose authentic, and how companies can make sure the work they’re doing in this space is meaningful to their internal and external audiences. This time Harton is back to discuss the PR professional’s role in all of this – why it’s important for communicators to have a seat at the ESG table, and their responsibilities at the table. 

“Up until recently, ESG initiatives sat in marketing. But ESG is not a marketing-led initiative,” she says. “It’s a strategic component of an organization’s approach to market. So, if it’s important for your organization, it needs to sit in the C-suite.”

Harton says PR needs to be sitting right next to the C-suite because so much of this work is authentic, transparent communications. Gone are the days when sustainability was a quaint idea you pitched to the press. The script has flipped, and ESG is a business imperative, and how you amplify positive developments and accurately tell your company’s story on the ESG journey is key. Also, how a company is perceived in its ESG efforts is making a clear financial and reputational impact. 

“ESG is transforming how organizations are communicating their purpose,” she said. “As a result, communications are going to become more important and more strategic.”

What has been difficult until now is how to measure ESG strategy effectiveness. Harton said there has been a big challenge for the C-suite to communicate their ESG performance internally and externally because there has been a lot of different rating and grading agencies. There’s no consistency. But, she said in the the short future, we’re going to see regulators select one or two standards that are going to become the standards for all organizations, and that’s going to make it much easier. She expects the SEC to make an announcement in the U.S. next spring and said work is underway in Europe, too. 

Key moments

1:17: The SEC’s Upcoming Regulations Around ESG
5:56:  Why ESG Is A Tremendous Opportunity For PR 
6:19: Communications And Authenticity Standards 
10:51: Developing A Baseline To Measure ESG PR Success
14:51: Engaging An Institutional Investor 
18:17: Customers Vote In Dollars, Employees Vote With Their Feet 
19:49: The Future Of PR Is Bright