Beyond Compliance: Thinking with ESG

If one perceives ESG as reporting towards climate compliance, one is clearly missing the woods for the trees as sustainability is about survival at the planetary scale, however at the human scale it is dignity of work that drives any transformation, digital or net zero. Without people as key actors in a process which is participatory rather than performative, no climate transition dialogue can achieve its stated outcomes. ESG at the entry level is compliance, as regulatory hygiene but higher up on the value curve it can serve as a lens to solve wicked problems for the transition’s era.

Software can capture data, and churn out a report, but culture will determine enterprise value. ESG is about enterprise value. The cacophony regarding ESG is generative, as it mainstreams ESG as business and reporting frameworks give guidance on how to embark on the journey. We are dealing with businesses and sometimes sustainability professionals forget that sustainability is not the only element on the C Suite agenda, it is merely one of them.

Grounded Politics: Hoardings in Mumbai

Mumbai has political iconography at every traffic signal and memorials are place making on the power cartography of this great Indian Ocean City. Ambedkarite parties occupy a lot of attention real estate on hoardings although insignificant on the electoral map. There are more fractions of the Republican Party of India than there are Communist Party segments splintered across the country. BSP is a subaltern political force which has lost significant steam in the Saffron Raj. The strange data point here is that the RPI (A) wins seats in Nagaland rather than Nanded, as Mr. Athavle, the federal social justice minister plays a symbolic role in state politics here in Mumbai.

Here is a memorial to the great shaper of Maharashtra and Mumbai’s politics past, present and future.

Jai Maharashtra.

Trans-local Bangla.

I speak more Bangla in Muscat and Singapore and other spaces in the south Asian Labour Diaspora than in Mumbai, the city of my birth. I speak Bangla with my Baba- a Bihari by birth who grew up in Bolpur than my Bengali mother from Bombay. I speak with my linguist mother in the Queens Tongue.

Ami Banglai Gaan Gaai.

I understood the essence of Ekushe in Singapore at Banglar Kantha where I learnt culture travels, anchors, and offers a sense of belonging in the Probash.

Joy Bangla.

ESG Risk Nodes & Networks

ESG risk can be mapped at scales, and each scale will result in different magnitudes and characters of affect. Labor issues at the plant level is an operational issue at the shop floor level aka scale, but it is a crucial culture data point at the level of human rights reporting to the bourses.

The micro and the macro scales juxtapose and intermingle when we consider decision making for responsible business. Is carbon a local and regional scale pollutant first, or a planetary scale GHG impacting climate impact?

Thinking in nodes and networks rather than as binary fixtures shall help practitioners grapple with ESG risk which is evolving and mutating at each spatiotemporal juncture.

The Social Umbrella of Studies

The unquantifiable ‘S’ in ESG is the operational glue which is the circulatory system at various scales. The numerous studies within the large tent ambit of the Social are:

– Stakeholder Engagement Plan

– Social and Labour Audits

– Human Rights Risk Assessments including Due Diligence

– Worker Well Being Studies

– Social Impact Assessments for Infrastructure Permitting and ESG Compliance for sustainable finance

– DEI Strategy Mapping

– Resettlement Action Plans

– Community Investment Plans

– M&E Studies

– Human Resources Training

Communities of practice include your employees and vendors and motivated people who are good for business.

Airline Cabins as Migration Melting Pots.

There are certain cultures of aero mobilities at 36k feet which we observe while I travel. I am a migration ethnographer, and the site of the body is an instrument to gauge phenomena. On a recent visit to Johannesburg from Mumbai via Addis, the traditional Indian Ocean pathways of migration from Kathiawar to Natal were mapped, as a bunch of vernacular skilled forced bachelor migrants from Jamnagar were enthusiastically exchanging khakra in the cabin and chatting loudly which sharing space with Khoja Ismaili South African Citizens chatting away in Gujarati visiting Mumbai.

I spotted a Jamaat Khana in a gas station above a restaurant next to a China Mart in Johannesburg. On the way back I found a group of young Sikh restaurant workers on the flight back to the Addis leg, taking the connecting flight to Delhi. There were so many working-class Indian men and traders working in the capitals and towns of East and Southern Africa, which are totally hidden from the scholarly gaze.

The airline cabin is a cultural space of migration corridors and is a melting pot of globalization. I sometimes wish the migrants know how to navigate these spaces respectfully.

Four Forks of ESG.

ESG is about mindset, an impulse towards inching towards responsible capitalism. The individual building blocks of E and S are worlds in themselves, however they work very differently when they are together as ESG risk, as scale and context play a role. The plurality of definitions and understanding about ESG is a key strength, as the world of business is diverse as business itself.

ESG is a business value driver in the climate zeitgeist. ESG is an actor network, and each node will have different weights. ESG is thus:

1. A Risk Mitigation Lens

2. A Responsible Capitalism Lens

3. An Investment Thesis

4. ESG as Culture

And ESG is a subset of the normative paradigm of sustainability, as an operational meta framework from the floor to the boardroom and its meanings shape shift at each scale.