computer and glasses in office surrounded by outdoors - sustainability in 2023

Things that frustrated chief sustainability officers in 2023

Shawn Stockman | February 1, 2024

2024 marks 30 years since business writer John Elkington coined the term “triple bottom line,” referring to measuring outcomes three ways: economic, environmental and social. In my opinion it is the primary value system from which ESG descended, which has now become a political hot potato.

So now the politically correct term for those who aim to manage impacts that are not necessarily financial (like “ecological” or “community” impacts) must cloak themselves as Sustainability professionals (and I count myself among them).

The whole “sustainability” space is evolving in ways many of us predicted, and most of those evolutions in 2023 were not in a positive direction in terms of holding companies accountable. Among the fairly predictable developments last year:

•  Big polluters like BP and Shell rolled back decarbonization efforts.
•  Some big financial institutions decided the UN-backed Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) was not convenient for them to use because it    hindered their ability to finance the big polluters.
•  Governments postponed or adjusted climate targets (not upward).
•  ESG continued to take a hit politically—could it be that the basic concept has become so mainstream that it’s too difficult to discern ESG from non-ESG investments (I wish)?
•  CEOs continue to ask how to take the easy way out: Can we just buy all the renewable energy certificates (RECs) or carbon credits the company needs one year before our target net-zero year? So much easier than making real changes to create efficiencies.

Among those trends that are actually a little new:
•  Competence greenwashing: a mysterious exponential growth in the number of “trained” sustainability workers.
•  Greenhushing: when you aren’t sure exactly what your company is doing around sustainability, you just don’t mention it. Ostriches really identify with that one.

Bright spots? That’s a tough one, I would point to the merger of Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC). At least that is progress toward a more simplified array or reporting frameworks with which sustainability professionals have to contend.

As for me, I am content to continue to move our company toward an improved triple bottom line. For people and planet, baby.

Enjoy the full article here, 15 things that frustrated chief sustainability officers in 2023

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