The trends in ESG reporting have transformed the corporate landscape in just a couple of years, moving from nice-to-have to must-have across the globe, and acting as a prism through which one can examine how business leaders can establish trust with all their stakeholders.
Defining the challenge: Enhancing sustainability communications and detecting evolving trends
At Edelman, we have a long-standing sustainability advisory capability, working with clients on how to define and position their purpose and ESG goals, and therefore enhance the effectiveness of their sustainability communications. In many instances, however, these client assignments have remained in the regional or subject matter expertise silos where they first landed. This left our global Edelman teams often unaware about what certain clients were asking of us, and therefore unprepared to detect how trends were evolving. And given the nature of reporting assignments – with often very tight deadlines and sense of exhaustion lingering after the project’s completion – it was also creating many short-term business opportunities that accumulated in a random manner globally, but it did not allow us to have a long-term vision or strategy for how to do it better.
This lack of sharing best practices was not just an internal business problem – it was increasingly anachronistic. As the ESG trends mentioned above gathered steam, it became increasingly obvious to us that no effective communication on sustainability could take place without genuine technical expertise on the key reporting frameworks emerging as best in class – whether GRI, SASB, or CDP – or, as will soon be the case for TCFD in the UK and New Zealand as well as the EU’s upcoming CSRD, the veritable law of the land. So if we wanted to be winners long-term, we had to up our game on the technical knowledge required as well.
Re-engineering sustainability reporting with global AND local technical expertise
We therefore decided to completely re-engineer our sustainability reporting business, adopting an approach that prioritises 1) technical subject matter expertise relevant at a global level, available to all clients as needed in real time 2) delivery on reporting needs at a local level, in line with existing client coverage expectations. We now call this integrated team the Edelman ESG Global Reporting Center of Excellence. Its key strategic pillars are:
- Permanent leadership for the CoE – rather than purely project-based – staffed by established professionals with backgrounds in sustainability reporting, investment management, and ESG consulting
- Mandatory training programmes for all CoE staff on the fundamental building blocks of reporting (e.g., GRI Academy, SASB FSA credential, CFA Institute Certificate in ESG Investing)
- Furthering the agenda – through regular thought leadership pieces and client advisory notices on changes in reporting trends, such as the TCFD guidance update in November 2021
With this new approach, we feel better positioned to respond to client assignments, as well as provide truly best in class execution on their ever-increasing ESG reporting needs. As of January 2022, our CoE has over 25 projects underway globally for delivery before the end of the first quarter, with reports ranging across multiple industries and geographies.
Edelman is convinced ESG is here to stay and that communication agencies such as ourselves will be at the forefront of building narratives that are fact-based and help build stakeholders’ trust in business. Without taking the long-term needs of the ESG reporting market into account – and investing proactively and commensurately to address them – we realised we would end up in a weaker competitive position. We are proud that we took the time needed to know how to build a true global ESG Center of Excellence, and are firmly convinced that his long-term investment will yield returns for our clients and our business.