ESG Best Practices for Growing Sustainability Programs

Amy Hou  |  February 8, 2018   |  Energy & Sustainability  


There’s a variety of benchmarking frameworks and ESG (environmental, social, governance) guidelines floating around the sustainability reporting industry. But one of the best — and hardest to grasp — ways to benchmark performance is to compare your program to real-life examples. That’s why we created a sustainability scorecard to help quantify how your strategy is doing in relation to its peers. Here, we’ll share some ESG best practices that can transform a standard sustainability program into an outstanding one.

What does a growing sustainability program look like?

First off, how do you know which level your sustainability program falls into? You could be an emerging program (a seedling), a growing program (a tree), or an industry-leading program (a forest). Here’s what a “tree” typically looks like in terms of ESG best practices:

  • Environmental: Tracks energy performance with a solid system (e.g. ENERGY STAR Portfolio ManagerⓇ, dashboard, spreadsheet); has also progressed to setting water and waste targets  
  • Social: Sustainability values are shared throughout the company, although not all employees may be aware of the goals
  • Governance: Discloses detailed data either through independent reports or through frameworks like GRI and CDP; still sometimes struggles to pinpoint areas for improvement

ESG Best Practices to Take You to the Next Level

As a “tree,” your program is doing well and standing on its own. That said, it’ll take more time and investment before it can fully mature. Here are some steps you can take to level up.


Take a hard look at your data collection process. You may be spending hours gathering data from various siloes and locations when it’s entirely unnecessary. There are plenty of options out there to automate this process. Once you can quickly identify how well you’re doing against your goals, then you can strategize the most effective avenues toward meeting those goals. But the longer you wait to take advantage of streamlined data, the further behind you’ll be.

Learn how to automate data entry into ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager.


Invest in employee engagement. The more that other employees can get involved in your initiatives, the more allies you’ll have when you’re seeking buy-in from the C-suite. You can do this by launching (friendly) competitions between departments, having training sessions, or even putting up posters. The Carbon Trust has some great printable materials just for this purpose.


One trend we’re watching is integrated reporting. Rather than segmenting annual financial reports and sustainability reports, some industry leaders are combining the two. Doing so signals to stakeholders that sustainability is truly embedded in the core of the business, and that business leaders understand how sustainability is affecting the bottom line.

A 2017 study found that 92 percent of investors want companies to explicitly identify ESG factors that materially impact performance. At the same time, however, the study revealed that investors don’t display much confidence in the reliability of the data currently reported. Investors want to see timely, accurate, and granular performance data. Therefore, internal controls around data are pivotal to living up to ESG best practices and kicking any sustainability program up a notch.

Want to find out exactly where your program stands? Use our scorecard to calculate your personal score.

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About Amy Hou

Amy Hou is a Marketing Manager at Urjanet, overseeing content and communications. She enjoys writing about the latest industry updates in sustainability, energy efficiency, and data innovation.