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From Philanthropy to ESG: The Evolution of CSR Paves the Path to a Sustainable Future

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In recent years, the corporate landscape has undergone a remarkable transformation in how businesses shoulder their social and environmental obligations. The erstwhile notion of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has bloomed into a far-reaching framework known as Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG). This signifies a profound paradigm shift in how companies view and tackle their influence on society, the natural world, and their governance protocols.
The origins of CSR trace back to the 1950s, when the idea of businesses contributing to society gained traction. Companies enthusiastically embraced CSR practices which were initially diverse, covering philanthropy, volunteering, and community-focused initiatives. However, in the 2000s, climate change reshaped our sense of responsibility, expanding it to encompass environmental concerns. Sustainable development gained prominence, emphasizing the preservation of resources for future generations. This led to a strategic and impactful shift captured by the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) framework. The remarkable growth in global ESG assets, from $1.2 trillion in 2000 to $35.3 trillion in 2021, along with an increase in ESG funds, highlights the recognition of businesses to address societal expectations and global challenges responsibly.
This transition brings more measurability, accountability, and business synergies into the notion of Corporate Responsibility. Moreover, the ESG framework calls for a more inclusive approach that touches not only society and the environment but also the investors. In fact, for businesses to integrate ESG into the core of their strategy and products, it is very important to not lose sight of how, in today’s time, it can generate not only social value but also tangible economic benefits.  In 2000, ESG investing was a niche market. Cut to 2023, it has become a mainstream investment strategy.

 ESG: A Quantifiable Framework for Sustainability

Globally, government mandates on sustainability and ESG disclosures are emerging. For instance, the European Union’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, effective from January 2023, mandates around 50,000 companies to report on social and environmental risks, business opportunities, and operational impact on people and the environment. Initial reporting requirements will commence in 2025. Similarly, in 2022, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission proposed a climate risk disclosure rule for publicly traded companies.
In a nutshell, the ESG framework offers concrete numerical indicators that investors and consumers can utilize to assess a company’s philanthropic, social, and internal governance practices. Conscious actions, both large and small, by organizations are now seen as crucial for mitigating challenges and preserving the Earth for future generations.

The Roots of Sustainable Investment and ESG Adherence 

The origins of sustainable investment and ESG adherence can be traced back to the 1950s when trade unions in the US advocated for pension funds to invest in sustainable projects. However, the emergence of the Shareholder Value Theory in the 1970s led to a decline in ESG consciousness. Nevertheless, environmental concerns persisted, resulting in the establishment of regulatory bodies like the US Environmental Protection Agency and the enactment of environmental laws.

The Growing Significance of ESG Reporting

ESG consciousness is soaring, compelling businesses and investors to prioritize sustainability. In 2022, SEBI mandated the Business Responsibility and Sustainability Report (BRSR) for the top 1,000 listed companies. This report has become a crucial reference for assessing ESG performance and has sparked momentum in ESG reporting in India. By September 2022, nearly 80% of the top 100 Indian companies published a standalone ESG report. Around 65% of these companies have set targets for social parameters, and 64% report on absolute carbon targets. Organizations are increasingly adopting international frameworks like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), and Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) to measure ESG performance.
The good news is that reporting notwithstanding, companies today do understand that to achieve sustainability goals, they require to take a systematic approach. They know that if they want to build sustainability as a competitive advantage, it will take much more than being a good corporate citizen. The vantage point has changed. Customers and investors are looking keenly at ESG and employees are becoming patrons of value creation.
As we look towards the future, there are more shifts underway. Businesses are integrating their ESG ethos deeply with their vision and purpose. Now, that is a change we all want to see!
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
Mrs Jyoti AgarwalJyoti Agarwal is a successful entrepreneur in her own right. For over 20 years, Jyoti Agarwal has been involved in the delivery of sustainable solutions that make a genuine difference to individuals and society. An experienced, strategic philanthropist, she has played a lead role in building the Sterlite Tech Foundation and the Agarwal family trust by combining her passion for empowerment and transform lives with a rigorous approach to driving impact.
The origins of CSR trace back to the 1950s, when the idea of businesses contributing to society gained traction. Companies enthusiastically embraced CSR practices which were initially diverse, covering philanthropy, volunteering, and community-focused initiatives. However, in the 2000s, climate change reshaped our sense of responsibility, expanding it to encompass environmental concerns. Sustainable development gained prominence, emphasizing the preservation of resources for future generations. This led to a strategic and impactful shift captured by the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) framework. The remarkable growth in global ESG assets, from $1.2 trillion in 2000 to $35.3 trillion in 2021, along with an increase in ESG funds, highlights the recognition of businesses to address societal expectations and global challenges responsibly.
This transition brings more measurability, accountability, and business synergies into the notion of Corporate Responsibility. Moreover, the ESG framework calls for a more inclusive approach that touches not only society and the environment but also the investors. In fact, for businesses to integrate ESG into the core of their strategy and products, it is very important to not lose sight of how, in today’s time, it can generate not only social value but also tangible economic benefits.  In 2000, ESG investing was a niche market. Cut to 2023, it has become a mainstream investment strategy.

 ESG: A Quantifiable Framework for Sustainability

Globally, government mandates on sustainability and ESG disclosures are emerging. For instance, the European Union’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, effective from January 2023, mandates around 50,000 companies to report on social and environmental risks, business opportunities, and operational impact on people and the environment. Initial reporting requirements will commence in 2025. Similarly, in 2022, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission proposed a climate risk disclosure rule for publicly traded companies.
In a nutshell, the ESG framework offers concrete numerical indicators that investors and consumers can utilize to assess a company’s philanthropic, social, and internal governance practices. Conscious actions, both large and small, by organizations are now seen as crucial for mitigating challenges and preserving the Earth for future generations.

The Roots of Sustainable Investment and ESG Adherence 

The origins of sustainable investment and ESG adherence can be traced back to the 1950s when trade unions in the US advocated for pension funds to invest in sustainable projects. However, the emergence of the Shareholder Value Theory in the 1970s led to a decline in ESG consciousness. Nevertheless, environmental concerns persisted, resulting in the establishment of regulatory bodies like the US Environmental Protection Agency and the enactment of environmental laws.

The Growing Significance of ESG Reporting

ESG consciousness is soaring, compelling businesses and investors to prioritize sustainability. In 2022, SEBI mandated the Business Responsibility and Sustainability Report (BRSR) for the top 1,000 listed companies. This report has become a crucial reference for assessing ESG performance and has sparked momentum in ESG reporting in India. By September 2022, nearly 80% of the top 100 Indian companies published a standalone ESG report. Around 65% of these companies have set targets for social parameters, and 64% report on absolute carbon targets. Organizations are increasingly adopting international frameworks like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), and Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) to measure ESG performance.
The good news is that reporting notwithstanding, companies today do understand that to achieve sustainability goals, they require to take a systematic approach. They know that if they want to build sustainability as a competitive advantage, it will take much more than being a good corporate citizen. The vantage point has changed. Customers and investors are looking keenly at ESG and employees are becoming patrons of value creation.
As we look towards the future, there are more shifts underway. Businesses are integrating their ESG ethos deeply with their vision and purpose. Now, that is a change we all want to see!
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
Jyoti Agarwal is a successful entrepreneur in her own right. For over 20 years, Jyoti Agarwal has been involved in the delivery of sustainable solutions that make a genuine difference to individuals and society. An experienced, strategic philanthropist, she has played a lead role in building the Sterlite Tech Foundation and the Agarwal family trust by combining her passion for empowerment and transform lives with a rigorous approach to driving impact.