How can communicators sharpen their skills to support the ESG story

ESG jobs are in demand and trending. As a communications professional, you are already poised to support this growing field.

There is no dispute that the ESG professional should be a subject matter expertise. This is where understanding of the business is paramount. The communications expert may not possess this understanding. For example, in an agriculture-based organisation, the ESG expert would need deep knowledge about the whole supply chain movement of the seed from the farm to the marketing channels. Only then will s/he be able to suggest appropriate and meaningful workflow changes that can result in more sustainable ways of doing business.

Communicators can support the ESG professional in shaping the right ESG narrative for the organisation.

Here are the five critical skills that communicators need to sharpen to be part of their organisation’s ESG journey:

#Skill 1: Widen your stakeholder network

Besides regulators, it is the investors and shareholders who are now more interested in understanding sustainable processes of any organisation. Communicators will need to design an ESG narrative that takes into consideration the concerns and interests of this wider group of stakeholders. They will need to revisit their stakeholder map and assess the messaging against each stakeholder. It will also call for the deepening of key relationships with businesses and functions.

#Skill 2: Redesign your narrative style

ESG disclosures need to be authentic, consistent, reliable, and accurate. It is the communicators skill in messaging that assumes importance here. However, keeping in focus the wider scope, implication, and importance of ESG disclosures, communicators will need to experiment with newer ways of narration. Companies will need to acknowledge their progress/lack of progress as per data and documentation. Dotting press releases via motherhood general statements will no longer work. Communicators will need to address gaps and be transparent.

#Skill 3: Understand the ESG reporting frameworks

ESG reporting is the window to the overall health of the company. One can read the ESG report of a company and gauge whether it is on the right track towards sustainability or not. ESG reporting is based on a framework designed by the regulatory body existing in that country. In India, SEBI has mandated organisations to file BRSR (Business Responsibility and Sustainability Reporting) report that provides the framework for ESG reporting. Communicators will need to familiarise themselves with various standards of reporting and other frameworks that exist.

#Skill 4: Be more collaborative and not merely cooperative

There is a difference between collaboration and cooperation. Cooperation, which thrives on engagement is vastly different from collaboration, which is all about empowerment. The essence of shared values and vision keeps the collaborative group thriving. Collaboration leads to generation of new ideas and new ways of working whereas in cooperation one may just share ideas and not anything beyond that. Communicators will need to collaborate with cross functional business teams to bring about change.

#Skill 5: See the big picture

Communicators are used to working in matrix organisations. With ESG reporting becoming mandatory, they will also need to support the management with their skills of prioritisation and quick resolution of crises. This will call for fine tuning of their ability to see the big picture. How is the world evolving, who are the movers and shakers in sustainability, what are the new standards and frameworks, how will the materiality index change with changing business strategies…these are some of the questions that communicators will constantly need to review and at the same time stay focused on tasks at hand.

The world of ESG is here to stay. It is the right time for communicators to reassess their skills and equip themselves to facilitate robust, balanced, and informed reporting.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Sarita Bahl is an alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Swedish Institute of Management Program. An experienced and versatile leader, she comes with nearly four decades of professional experience. She has over the years successfully overseen the communications and public affairs function and led the corporate social responsibility strategy for Bayer South Asia, Pfizer, and Monsanto, among others. Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, the public sector, trade associations, MNCs, and the not-for-profit sector. Her areas of interest include advocacy, stakeholder engagement, sustainability, and communications.

As an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) from the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and Senior Practitioner (Mentoring) from the European Council of Mentoring and Coaching (EMCC), Sarita specializes in career transition, inner engineering and life issues. Sarita enjoys writing and is passionate about animals, books, and movies.

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