ESG proposition leads to higher value creation for businesses: Trigya Singh
The narrative to create value for companies and their shareholders has never been more integral than now for any business. Shareholders and stakeholders do not compete in a zero-sum game. Building a strong connection with broad elements of society creates value and builds resilience into the business model.In this episode of Mrigashira, Charu Raizada speaks to Trigya Singh, to understand how getting the ESG proposition right links to higher value creation for businesses and as communicators, what we could do. Trigya is an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Specialist with OnPurpose PR.
Listen to the podcast here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/52DGo6J9UxzbxUqFw8iO6N?si=JtD3OLquQZe6_U37YJI2fw
What got you interested in ESG?
As a young child, who’s lived in Jharkhand and Bihar, I have seen very closely how certain brands like Tata Power, Tata Steel and Aditya Birla group work in a very community driven way, where they have their plant. Where they’re mining, they create this environment where everything is taken care of, in terms of zero harm, zero waste, zero discharge. This got me interested. I did not know then that it was something called ESG. Working as a communications person who’s also doing digital, I noticed that’s part of the work that we get a lot of these queries when we are monitoring on social, when we are doing analytics. The entire conversation has pivoted towards climate action, and climate change for the past few years. And thanks, to brands that I have been working with, like Google India, IKEA, and RenewPower, everybody has been talking about, achieving net zero. So, I would say that, in a way the universe conspired to get me here. And ever since I’ve been here in this in this sector spectrum, I have been reading up, researching, using the techniques in my communications on a daily basis and that’s why I’m interested.
ESG is often misunderstood to be CSR, or even sustainability, or just restricted to this, how can we explain ESG inreally simplistic terms?
Well, they made it very simple by calling it ESG. So, E stands for environmental, S stands for social and G stands for governance. To make it even simpler, environmental is basically all the information that encompasses how a company is exposed to and manages risks and opportunities related to climate change, natural resources scarcity, pollution, waste and other environmental factors. So, sustainability, climate change becomes a natural part of it.
When you talk about social, it’s a component that includes information about the company’s values and business relationships. For example, social topics like labour and supply chain standards, employee health, community health, safety, product quality, data privacy and data security, D&I fall under this. We don’t typically relate private sector or basically brands to governance. We think that it’s the responsibility of the government. But actually, it’s an ecosystem, wherein it is imperative for the governments to form partnerships with private players or public sector players. And under that, you have subjects like executive compensation, board of directors, policies and lobbying, political contributions, bribery and corruption. All these three factors are measured for a period of time, like on a yearly basis and there is scoring that is given to companies.
Communications plays a very important role as people within the company, the leadership, and the communities where they work in are now all being cognizant of the fact that the entity, the private player, or the public player, is ESG compliant. So, ESG is not just CSR, it’s not just sustainability. It’s not just governance, it’s not just good practices. It’s everything. And the reason why it is important is because it obviously reduces risk in terms of investment, yes, but also in terms of having an entity that is looking after the community, whether the entity is good enough or not. That is something which has become a democratic conversation now, people are having that conversation now, which is really important, which means people are understanding it. But there is still a long way to go.
What would you advise communicators who are interested in this subject?
I’ll start with the basic, every communicator these days, has been using a messaging framework. You begin there, that’s literally the DNA of all your communication, outreach, initiatives and planning, and you include ESG, in at that stage. When I say it’s a messaging architecture, think of it like a pyramid. You begin with the simplest and easy level, which is, you know, easier to understand for everybody that is Environment and Climate conservation. You talk about initiatives that your brand, or your prospect is going to talk about, should be talking about. You mould all your PR and your social initiatives, and your campaigns accordingly and you build them around environmental climate conservation topics, under which of course, you talk about how the market is aligning.
You look at what key opinion leaders are talking about. You need to be cognizant of the fact that you are not just an individual in that system, but also forming a chain in terms of communication. So, let’s say from a simplistic point of view, if there is a topical thread that’s going on ESG or let’s say net zero laddering back to environmental carbon conservation, you latch on that. You talk about what are you doing in terms of that? What it does, it has a ripple effect and it actually helps you further the conversation. The second layer or part of the pyramid that you can have is called fair balanced development. Now, because you are a player in the ecosystem, you also have to be cognizant about what your employees, your community, the state government or the central government is talking, and how are you aligning with those ideas. Now, to give you an example, a couple of months back, NitiAayog came out with the India 75 charter. Everybody's almost read that, but very few people have come out and understood that it is built around ESG principles. And all the three things that I spoke about earlier are a part of it. So, when private partners or entities start aligning to that in their campaigns, again, would make more sense.
The third thing you can add to your communication pillar of the pyramid is talking about transparency and human rights. Again, the conversation should be around how you are building trust, creating dialogues, skilling - not just your own workforce, but the workforce around the community where you're working. How are you forging partnerships, and how is that good for you, and the environment and the community, and laddering back to the grassroot level where you are working. And the fourth and the most important and the most topical thing being health and well-being which is typically at the bottom of the pyramid. But now given the circumstances, most brands are inverting the pyramid and talking about that first.
As the employee becomes central to all communication, how can a strong ESG proposition prove to be an enabler for employee communication specifically?
Take the example of Castrol India. Typically, lubricant brands or brands that are in the automotive space do not talk about ESG or do not talk about sustainability. Once the lockdown hit, Castrol started the conversation by involving employees. We sort of created this entire framework where employees could come in, give video bytes of the good work they were doing at home to make the environment better, or the relief work that they were doing. And this, you know, made the entire thing very interesting because the social media platforms of the brand became a platform for the employees to speak. When you take employees and empower them and tell that they are as bigger part of this ESG or sustainability conversation as we are as a brand, it creates a different effect. It becomes more shareable, more people get educated, and more people participate because there is a known face talking about it.
For Vedanta, we started this interesting series about Vedanta heroes, again laddering to CSR, talking about the relief work they are doing in their communities. These stories lend credibility. It also showed that the ESG factor, the environment, social governance factor is in the DNA of these organisations and it is not just something that you do for a mandatory metric measurement, which is engagement and reach.
Even the best of programs without measurement, you know, has literally no meaning. So, what would you recommend?
Communicators are more than an impressing express in a way that people understand. Your communication should not be limited only to a certain set of people, which is key opinion leaders, it should be for everyone, if it’s on social. And measuring social is easy, because every footprint that you leave on social media is measurable in terms of reach, impressions, or engagement, congruence in terms of sentiment. Now, what we did and I have been working on this for past, almost three years is create a framework which is easy to calculate, marry that framework with typical social or digital listening tactics, there are a lot of tools for that. And the measurement framework is really simple – you have these three pillars, environmental, social, and governance. Under environment, we have, let’s say, resource use, emission, emissions innovation. You give scoring in terms of what is the coverage now, for example, for ESG compliance, all brands have to talk about the impact. They do that through the annual reports, their different publications and journals, white papers, what not. But the reality is they have to talk about numbers. When you look at the numbers and look at the impact those numbers are having in terms of reach and relevance and resonance and social, you can create a scoring. And then obviously include social listening mechanisms to see what they are talking about on social, how is their sentiment going? Is it towards negative, is it more towards positive, is it more towards neutral, and then pivot using the three principles. It all boils down to three things – its relevance, resonance and reach, in a very simplistic way.
*Edited for length and clarity
(Mirgashira is a podcast for Indian PR and Communication professionals anchored by RadhaRadhakrishnan and Charu Raizada. To listen to all episodes visit https://www.digitales.co.in/industry-insights/mrigashira-podcast/)