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  • Writer's pictureJason Nisse

OMG is ESG a PR #Fail?

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

South-African born son of the co-owner of an emerald mine, Elon Musk, has long been a campaigner against “woke-ism”, which is what those to the right of politics and the traditional arm of business call everything from trans rights to ESG. His takeover of Twitter is being seen as a launch pad for an alliance of anti-woke capitalists determined to lift the shackles of the compliance with environmental (mainly), social (less so) and governance (sporadic) issues that some see as restraining business growth.

The problem is that the ESG industry (for want of a better word) been its own worst enemy in how it has approached how to implement and communicate better business standards. Management thinker and journalist Stefan Stern wrote an excellent article in the Financial Times last week criticising the trend for the PR industry (right word) to wrestle control of the ESG agenda as a way of promoting its services.

He shares a view I have long held that, if you are asking PR people to solve your ESG issues, then you are asking the wrong people the wrong questions. Ultimately, ESG compliance for quoted companies is an investor relations issue – it needs to reflect what shareholders want and if investors (and remember we are all investors through our pension funds) want greater environmental, social and governance standards, then business has to fall into line.

Elon Musk calls corporate ESG “the devil incarnate” – which is an interesting position for someone who treats corporate financial reporting with the same casual “shoot from the hip” insouciance that Donald Trump treated policy making when he was president. Musk – and Trump – clearly feels rules are for the little people.

Stefan Stern ultimately argued that when assessing ESG “Occam’s razor can help: if your business is doing something you would be embarrassed to tell your friends and family about, you probably should not be doing it.” And if you take that approach, no amount of PR spin can help you if you are not doing the right thing.

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