Don’t be an ‘ESG Expert’
A reflection of ESG and what it means to develop expertise.
Developing an in-depth understanding towards environmental, social and governance (ESG) topics can take years of experience. Yet, in an age where certifications, LinkedIn flexes and buzz words dominate our head space, many have undoubtedly felt a need to become ‘experts’ from day one.
The following LinkedIn post brilliantly captures an awkward conversation that could often occur with those pursuing or holding ESG-related roles.
There is no doubt that there is a fair share of imposters in the industry that claim to be ESG experts. But there is also a disproportionate amount of pressure towards those in ESG-related roles, expecting practitioners to know everything ESG-related. The phrase ‘ESG burnout’ has been used to describe the psychological impact of this phenomenon. Perhaps, what’s actually needed, is some constructive behavioral change from both sides.
First, don’t call yourself an ESG expert. Such claims may sell at first, but not when everyone purports to be one. Besides, it does not really help convey your value proposition. A more effective way of communicating your value is to also specify an area of specialty that you are experienced in. E.g. specialist in environmental due diligence or experienced in carbon auditing. Advertising oneself as an ESG expert is synonymous to claiming to be a legal expert without providing further context about your legal practice. A corporates finance lawyer that advises clients on mergers & acquisitions would of course convey this message to others in order to attract the right clients. Granted, many firms are trying to fight for as much market share as possible by branding themselves as a one-stop shop, but you as an individual can still decide how you communicate the value of your team and your specialty. This helps you stand out, whilst helping clients in need find the right resources efficiently.
Second, admit to weaknesses and knowledge gaps. Expertise is built with time and patience, and there really is no way to become specialists without going through the initial stages of confusion and ignorance. Openly acknowledging these gaps, however, is a great way to get yourself to learn as much as possible. ESG is an evolving space, and there seems to always be something new coming up for practitioners to learn and read about. Intellectual honestly makes you more humble, and open towards what other’s have to say about different topics. Acknowledging that gap in know-how, encourages you to go out there and find out more about it from someone with actual experience.
Finally, develop reasonable expectations towards ESG. Don’t expect the designated ESG person in your organization to know it all. There may be things this ESG specialist is inexperienced and ignorant about. But let’s face it, we need more ESG enthusiasts than we have. Rather than alienating those that are put into the position to learn and contribute to this space, why not openly express your concerns if you have any and find answers together as a team.
ESG is ultimately a popularized term to describe concepts that have been around for many years such as Environmental, Health & Safety (EHS), human rights, corporates governance… The markets will always have new buzzwords to describe the latest trend. At least, we’re lucky that this term is mobilizing more people and corporates willing to take a step to make the world a better place.
Refer to the next post for responses to the questions posed by the LinkedIn post.