Larissa Joy OBE, Chair of Social Business Trust, explores why the ‘S’ in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) is central and how business leaders are challenging themselves and their teams about the role that responsible business can play in building a stronger civil society.

I distinctly remember the first time I encountered the term ESG, in my early days as a Partner in a leading emerging markets private equity firm. At the time – remarkably only some 15 years ago – weaving an ESG approach into investment decision-making was a differentiating factor. An uncommon approach.

Now, in the 2020s, hardly a day passes without business leaders examining and reviewing aspects of their organisations’ ESG strategy. The questions ‘What does it really mean to be a responsible business?’; ‘What is the role of our business in creating a strong civil society?’; ‘How can we forge stronger, more progressive relationships with the communities in which we operate?’ and ‘How can our employees weave this into their work?’ are never far from the strategic priorities of business leaders. This is good news. And the further good news is that the evidence to support the relationship between ESG issues and enhanced financial and commercial performance is growing.

ESG considerations are coming under ever-increasing scrutiny in the investment arena. A variety of indices and benchmarks, frameworks and approaches exist, and continue to be developed, to help to shine a spotlight on best practice.

What gets measured, gets managed

Whilst there have been improvements in the way that society and business measure the value of governance and environmental impact, measuring the ‘S’  – the social dimension – has presented somewhat greater challenges. It will take concise and coherent approaches to measurement, applied consistently and over time, to ensure enlightened approaches become the norm.

Steve Varley (Global Vice Chair, Sustainability, EY) and Andy Haldane (Co-Founder,  Pro Bono Economics) contributed thoughtful views on this topic recently for the SBT Podcast.

Purposeful people

Responsible business has long been a topic that SBT and its valued partners have championed. SBT forges impactful partnerships between ambitious social enterprises and leading businesses. The social enterprises gain access to world-leading expertise from SBT’s business partners, across disciplines as diverse as strategy, digital, pricing, legal, marketing, big data, employee relations, tax and more. The corporate partners offer their employees the chance to flex, develop and apply their skills in new, challenging environments. And the beneficiaries of the social enterprises ultimately benefit from the support they receive from strong, sustainable social enterprises.

It is perhaps not precisely the ‘Triple Bottom Line’ that Freer Spreckley envisaged when he coined that phrase 40 years ago, but it has much in common with his imaginative and innovative approach. There remains a huge untapped opportunity to mobilise and leverage the skills and attributes that employees from a wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines have – for the pursuit of real social purpose.

This blog was originally written for and featured on the Career Ready blog. Read more of their thought leadership blogs, here.

Larissa Joy, OBE is Chair of Social Business Trust, a member of the Board of Helpforce, Chair of the Foundling Museum, and Chair and Non-executive Director of a number of commercial organisations in the professional services sector spanning legal services, architecture and executive search and leadership consulting.