Getting Started on Your ESG Journey
While many businesses have prioritized efforts that would fall under the Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) umbrella for decades, formal ESG programs are a more recent addition to corporate structures. EMC Insurance Companies is no exception. ESG issues are at the core of who EMC is as a company and what it values. Departments across our organization were building ESG values into their strategies and practices, but we didn’t have a centralized place to capture this, in order to measure it, report on it and build upon it.
In spring 2021, EMC established its first ESG Committee, comprised of subject experts across the company, to better coordinate our efforts. We on the Committee were charged with documenting EMC's current practices, building new engagement opportunities, developing a vision for the future and sharing our ESG story with various audiences.
Before I share a bit more about our journey to publishing our first ESG report within one year of forming our ESG Committee, I want to first define ESG for those who might be new to the concept.
What is ESG?
ESG criteria are a way to evaluate a company's operations to determine how responsible and sustainable it is. Initially, these criteria were used by socially conscious investors to screen potential investments in public companies. Over time, more companies — even those not publicly traded — have begun to focus on their ESG practices. Not only is it the right thing to do, but increasingly, employees, consumers, vendors and other business partners have become interested in the topic.
Here are some examples of what each category might encompass, which can vary by industry:
Environmental: Energy usage, recycling programs, climate change impact, LEED certifications, electric vehicles, campus green spaces, bike parking, travel reductions
- Social: Corporate giving, volunteerism, DE&I programs, wellness, employee engagement, internship programs, recognition programs, leader development, United Way campaigns
- Governance: Conflicts of interest, code of ethics, board demographics, innovation, investment philosophy, cyber security, fraud elimination efforts, pay equity, ethics hotline
ESG at EMC
The first step that we took as an ESG Committee was to internally share the news of our formation. Since ESG work truly happens within all departments across an organization, it requires buy-in and participation from everyone. We were thrilled to receive immediate positive feedback and offers of collaboration after sharing the news through our employee newsletter and a new ESG-focused page on our intranet.
We developed a charter to define our purpose and began holding regular meetings to establish goals for the year and determine our path to achieving them. We reached our first big milestone of creating an external ESG page on our company’s website approximately six months in. The page highlights EMC’s overall commitments within the three ESG pillars and will be a place to share our annual efforts with the public. After this, we turned our attention to creating our first ESG report.
Our Committee members, representing a wide range of departments across the company, began digging into ESG at EMC. We collected both data and stories, captured them in a collaborative document and formed an outline. The group identified which content made sense to share initially and which content made sense for our Committee to track and build open for future reporting. The timing worked out to where we could incorporate the report into our existing annual Corporate Review, which proved to be a resourceful approach.
We released our report in March 2022. It doesn’t encompass everything ESG-related happening at EMC, but I imagine no ESG report can do so. What it does do is make very clear to all our internal and external partners that this work matters to us. And this is just the beginning.
Advice for Getting Started
A natural step in creating our first report process was reviewing some very impressive and lengthy reports that larger companies had released. While we were using those as future inspiration, we knew that something on that scale wasn’t in the cards for us in our first year, and we were motivated to get started. We decided something together — which might be my single biggest piece of advice to anyone just beginning their ESG journey — It’s okay to start small.
With our first report out there, our Committee can now turn its attention to what additional value we want to provide the company, what are the core ESG issues that matter most to our stakeholders, what additional data we might recommend capturing to develop important ESG metrics and how we want to expand upon on our report next year. Now that we’ve started, the opportunities to grow, and the impact we can make, are endless.
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Doug Van Zanten
Doug Van Zanten is Vice President - Deputy General Counsel at EMC Insurance Companies.