Tips to keep up with the fast-moving ESG field

Responsibility Matters' Rosa Rivero (right) with colleague Trina Richman-Monar

Every year, I speak to the MBA students at the University of Calgary and among the many questions they have, there is often a version of “I want to keep up to date with changes in sustainability or ESG but I don’t know where to look. What conference should I attend? or how do I even know when there is a new webinar.” There are not many courses out there and the academic materials they find seem to be too old to be relevant in a filed that changes by the week.

The problem (and the beauty if you ask someone like me) of sustainability and ESG is that it changes extremely quickly. Just when we were getting used to the GRI Standards, they published a new exposure draft that would change quite a few things. It was open for public comment for a few months and the final version will be ready in 2021. The conceptual framework for SASB (only published in 2018) is also up for review, and was available for public comment until December 2020.

We tell our clients: ”We stay on top of the most recent ESG developments, so you don’t have to”. Most people working in corporate roles are already overwhelmed and overworked, and this is the last thing they want to add to their plate.

But if you want to learn more about ESG, my goal is to help you cut through the clutter and focus your efforts. Whether you are new to the space, or have been around for some time and are short on time, these are my five best tips to keep on top of this fast-changing field:

  1. Pay attention the standard/framework setters

GRI: Follow GRI on LinkedIn and sign up for their excellent monthly newsletter. You can learn about changes to the framework, and there are great case studies and in-depth discussions. GRI also has many webinars and podcast episodes.

SASB: Follow SASB on Twitter and LinkedIn. They are very active accounts. When you download the standards you can also subscribe to their content. They host lots of interesting webinars and have an annual conference in New York.

TCFD has a thorough knowledge hub where you can take classes and read case studies.

  1. Focus on a few news aggregators instead of following hundreds of companies

It is really hard to follow enough companies to get a sense of what’s going on in the space.  Instead sign up for a few newsletters to receive news in your inbox instead of chasing the content around.

My three favourites are:

  • Smart Brief on Sustainability: a daily summary of company news related to sustainability efforts
  • ENERGYminute: a weekly summary that promises you to “make you smarter in 5 minutes”. I love their infographics to explain difficult concepts. They share excellent articles with well-research data and have a great sense of humour (if that's important to you, it is for me).
  • The reporting exchange: a monthly newsletter with new developments in the reporting space.
  1. Listen to rating agencies podcasts

The ESG rating agency space is probably the fastest moving of all. I prefer to listen to their podcasts instead of reading articles:

  •  ESG Now by MSCI: there are 115 archived episodes. I like that each episode is very specific and discusses one issue that is happening that week, for example: twitter vs. Facebook, wildfires in Australia, the gig economy.
  • ESG Insider by S&P: an interview-style podcast with company leaders looking at issues through an ESG lens.
  1. Attend conferences (now online).

Some of the most recommended ones are:

  • February 2021: GreenBiz Conference in Arizona (historically had 1,500 attendees)
  • April to July 2021: GLOBE has a whole series of events and conferences, focusing on sustainable finance, circular economy, meeting Canada’s net zero commitment.
  • June 2021: Responsible Business Summit by EthicalCorp in London in October (6,000 attendees)
  • December SASB Symposium usually in New York but virtual since 2020

Most conferences had a virtual FREE version in 2020 and are now offering an online event in 2021 (priced much lower than the in-person event).

  1. Use our best-kept secret

And for the final tip, the best well-kept ESG geek secret is to get company ESG reports delivered to your inbox via CSR wire and/or Report Alert by 3BL media.

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