2024 ESG Outlook: Moving Beyond Buzzwords With Strategic Approaches

While no substantive federal legislation on ESG is expected to reach the president’s desk this year, the White House is focused on utilizing existing authorities to make progress on climate, said Ecolumix CEO and Founder Doug Parker during a recent webinar, “An Insider’s View of ESG 2024.” Parker, along with fellow panelists Sally Curley, Founder and CEO of Curley Global IR, LLC, and Mary Beth Jordan, Founder and Principal of MBJ Strategies, discussed hot topics in the ESG space, anticipated regulatory updates, and voluntary reporting and disclosure requirements during the webinar. Carol Nolan Drake, Founder and CEO of Carlow Consulting, moderated the session.

Parker pointed out that the Biden administration successfully embedded climate priorities into the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act but that a broader climate law likely isn’t possible. Instead, the administration is taking a whole-of-government approach, incorporating climate policy into agency actions where possible. For example, the upcoming SEC climate risk disclosure rule, expected this spring, would require U.S. companies to provide information on the climate risks facing their business, their plans to address those risks, and metrics detailing their climate footprint. But Parker said the SEC rule will be less prescriptive than initially anticipated.

It’s also important to focus on the new federal acquisition rules, the “less publicity-hungry companion” to the SEC climate rule. Also expected this spring, these rules will affect thousands of federal contractors in the U.S., Parker said.

Polarizing Terminology

There’s been a public backlash to terms like “ESG,” Curley said, and some companies are turning to less polarizing language like “corporate responsibility” or environmental sustainability.”

Parker said that DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) is a similarly polarizing term. While he expects some companies to stop using the term “DEI,” Parker says the concept will remain a focus as younger generations seek diverse organizations. 

Other Hot Topics

Parker emphasized the importance of third-party verification, especially for Scope 2 and Scope 3 data collection. “We are moving from art and estimation to science and engineering in this space,” he said. “There are some amazing companies who are doing third-party verification, data capture, and presenting in a way that it can be utilized by not just the end users, but it can also be audited.” He said companies should invest in these new verification tools because they instill confidence in investors.

Additionally, the panelists discussed:

  • the importance of focusing on local business performance standards in the commercial real estate space;
  • the impact that California’s new reporting rules will have on private companies;
  • the use of RFPs to screen suppliers and find out more about their environmental performance;
  • the importance of examining how a company’s operations affect local communities, particularly environmental justice communities; and
  • the holistic approach that companies should take for disclosures, not siloing sustainability reports, and ensuring that they look across all corporate disclosures to ensure there aren’t gaps or contradictions.

You can watch the webinar here: Taped Panel: An Insider’s View of ESG 2024