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Why the "G" in ESG Matters to Investors

By Nadia Soultanova – Member of the Board at uIMPACT and Head of Network at Urban Impact Ventures


The E and the S vs. the G

The prominence of ESG factors—Environmental, Social, and Governance—has significantly risen in recent years. However, while much attention has been given to the "E" and "S" components, the "G" aspect of ESG has often been overlooked, despite its profound importance.

It is crucial for companies to recognize the significance of governance, particularly because it matters to investors—a lot.

Understanding ESG

ESG serves as a comprehensive framework that guides the evaluation and addressing of potential negative impacts associated with Environmental, Social, and Governance factors on a company's growth trajectory.

Widely embraced across industries, this framework aids in categorizing, assessing, evaluating, and reporting on the associated risks. The integration of ESG considerations has become a mainstream practice among investors and financial institutions. Financing opportunities have also become increasingly linked to a company's comprehensive embrace of ESG principles.

Yet, in the ESG conversation and controversies, the focus has primarily revolved around the "E" and "S" components, leaving the "G” underappreciated and underreported and thus leaving companies and their investors exposed to governance-related risks.

The Importance of the "G" for Investors

The "G" in ESG refers to governance factors related to decision-making processes, and the distribution of rights and responsibilities among different participants, such as the board of directors, managers, shareholders, and stakeholders.

At its core, governance encapsulates the intricate systems and processes that underpin how a company is managed and controlled. While environmental and social factors often receive significant attention, it is in governance where most of the real risks lie.

Investors' governance-related concerns are anything but new but have traditionally focused primarily on shareholder returns rather than broader sustainability factors.

Investors' concerns about governance however have been evolving. There is now a broader recognition of the need to bridge the gap between investors' stated ESG commitments and their approach to governance. Investors are aligning governance (G) policies with ESG principles, emphasizing sustainable wealth creation and long-term stakeholder value.

Savvy investors, who are keenly aware of the symbiotic relationship between governance and success, understand the pivotal role of governance in value creation. A well-governed company is more likely to make prudent decisions, effectively manage risks, and foster unwavering trust among stakeholders. Furthermore, robust governance practices significantly reduce a company’s exposure to reputational risk and potential reputational damage, which can have dire financial repercussions. Ultimately, a well-governed company can effectively address environmental and social issues and mitigate risks, making governance a critical aspect of the broader ESG agenda.

How should an early and growth-stage company approach the G in ESG?

For early and growth-stage companies, the "G" in ESG holds particular significance as they navigate their path toward sustainable growth and responsible business practices. Incorporating ESG considerations into decision-making processes is not only a responsible approach, but it also has tangible benefits for the company's long-term success.

To effectively approach the "G" in ESG, companies should begin by thoroughly assessing the potential environmental, social, and governance impacts of their strategic choices. This evaluation should be integrated into their long-term planning to ensure that sustainability and responsible practices are at the forefront of their growth trajectory.

A crucial step in this process is the creation of a robust governance framework. This framework should address various aspects of governance, including board composition, risk management and compliance, stakeholder engagement, transparency and disclosure, ethical conduct, anti-corruption measures, and reporting. Each of these elements plays a vital role in establishing a strong governance structure that supports the company's commitment to ESG principles.

  • Firstly, board composition should be carefully considered, aiming for diversity in skills, expertise, and experiences. Including independent directors who are not affiliated with the company or its management can enhance objectivity and oversight. This diverse and independent board can effectively guide the company in making responsible decisions aligned with ESG goals.

  • Secondly, robust risk management and compliance practices are essential for effective governance. Identifying and managing environmental, social, and governance risks that may impact the company's operations, reputation, and stakeholder relationships are crucial. Compliance with relevant laws, regulations, and industry standards should be a top priority.

  • Thirdly, stakeholder engagement is key. Companies should prioritize engaging with stakeholders such as employees, customers, suppliers, local communities, and investors. By establishing mechanisms for ongoing dialogue, feedback, and accountability, the company can ensure that diverse perspectives are considered in the decision-making processes.

Transparency and disclosure also play a vital role in governance. Companies should implement transparent reporting, providing accurate and timely information on their sustainability performance, policies, initiatives, and risks. This transparency builds trust with stakeholders and enables them to make informed assessments of the company's practices.

Board oversight and accountability are essential for effective governance. Clear lines of responsibility and accountability should be established between the board and operational management. The board should provide oversight and guidance while holding management accountable for ESG performance. Regular reporting, performance evaluations, and the establishment of board committees focused on ESG matters can support this process.

Ethical conduct and anti-corruption measures are integral to good governance. Companies should establish a code of conduct that sets expectations for ethical behavior, integrity, and anti-corruption measures. Implementing internal controls and whistleblowing mechanisms can help prevent misconduct and ensure accountability.

Sustainability should be embedded in governance practices. Incorporating ESG considerations into investment decisions, strategic planning, and capital allocation contributes to the alignment of the company's decisions with the long-term interests of all stakeholders.

Regulatory compliance and advocacy are also crucial aspects of governance. Companies should comply with applicable laws and regulations while actively engaging in advocacy efforts to shape regulatory frameworks that promote sustainability and responsible business practices. Collaboration with industry peers and participation in public policy discussions can further support these efforts.

Finally, governance practices should be continuously improved and refined over time. Regular assessments and reviews of governance frameworks, policies, and practices allow companies to identify areas for enhancement. Reporting on progress and performance against ESG goals demonstrates the company's commitment to good governance and facilitates stakeholder evaluations.

By addressing these key ESG governance considerations, early and growth-stage companies can establish strong governance frameworks that support sustainable and responsible business practices. This, in turn, enhances their attractiveness to investors who prioritize companies with a solid commitment to ESG principles.

Last but not least, seek external validation and certification: consider obtaining external validation of your governance practices through certifications or ESG assessment tools from providers like uIMPACT. This can enhance your credibility and attractiveness to investors who prioritize companies with strong governance.

It encompasses critical elements such as board composition, executive compensation, shareholder rights, risk management, and compliance with regulatory frameworks. By adopting sound governance practices, companies fortify their ability to nurture long-term sustainability and effectively navigate potential risks.

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