Earlier this year Andrew Orlowski, celebrated journalist and current opinion columnist for the Telegraph, shared his alarm on how ‘environmental ideology’ and ‘green zealotry’ are, in his opinion, stifling innovation.
This is patently not true as truly amazing innovations that foster sustainability arise every day – see clean energy, circular economy initiatives, environment-friendly agrifood improvements, and electric transport.
From a communications perspective, this raises some alarm bells: clearly, the business world does not quite understand yet the immense benefits of environmental thinking, and presumably, of other measures of sustainability like Social and Governance – all three of which bring together ESG. The business community cannot be blamed: for a long time, there has been bombastic, flowery prose from major brands on how deeply they care for the planet and people, followed by horrendous abuses of trust and shameless exploitation.
One thing is clear: ESG should be communicated better. Otherwise we run the risk of great initiatives being swept under the rug of innovation failures, like Orlowski states. But who cares about ESG?
Crucially, investors. The tech world is already undergoing a period of transformation – Alphabet misses on earnings again, Twitter is in the grips of scandal, and Meta of course is all systems go to create the metaverse (which will bring an entirely new fresh set of social and governance challenges, but for now we don’t need to worry about it just yet).
Meanwhile, in the B2B world, companies continue to face the Innovator’s Dilemma, wondering whether to innovate now and assume the risks and advantages of being first or wait for everybody else and (safely) lag behind. ESG presents exactly this choice, and with it, it attracts investor attention. ESG is now crucial to investment, even as the regulator strives to push towards better clarity and accountability with the upcoming Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive.
It’s not just an investment issue: in an era where digital talent is more crucial than ever to business competitiveness, with new generations caring more about their company’s ethics, they can’t afford to alienate the best candidates. Innovating is key to keep the business up and running while also transforming to be more sustainable, especially in traditionally intensive industries like energy.
ESG is often accused of being a fad, a false conviction, or an impossibility. And it will all be true in the eyes of the public, if not the regulators – who are prepared for an uphill battle – unless Communications does its job: to prove the case that doing the right thing, acronyms or no acronyms, is a win overall for business and for society. Mr Orlowski will be no doubt heartened to see that, far from being blinded from ‘green promises’, innovators will keep innovating at pace to be able to keep up with this reality.