When Flimsy ESG Strategies Fail: A Dialogue on Building Sustainability Practices

This is a different sort of post. I want to extend my gratitude to my new friend, M.Z., for allowing me to share our conversation. M.Z. reached out to me on WhatsApp this week, seeking guidance. Since I don’t offer free consulting, I asked if it would be okay to anonymize him and share our discussion, as his challenges might resonate with others. He agreed, and here’s our exchange.

M.Z.: “Joel, I attended your masterclass at the Global Project Management Forum in Riyadh It was incredibly insightful, and now I need your guidance. I’m responsible for the ESG strategy at my company, and we just went through a rigorous audit by Vanguard. They found our ESG disclosure lacking in depth, even calling it ‘flimsy’. Most of our sustainability impacts are in our supply chain, which includes contractors and sub-contractors. I thought these impacts were beyond my control. The auditors pointed out that we couldn’t provide data on sustainability impacts and when you were doing the exercise on P5 standard all of those elements seemed to match up with what they were looking for. Their feedback has put our funding at risk. How can we improve our ESG strategy and avoid losing investor confidence?”

Joel: ” I’m glad you found the masterclass useful. It sounds like you’re facing a significant challenge, but it’s very important to understand that an ESG strategy should be more than just a set of disclosures. It needs to be backed by solid sustainability practices that extend to the entire value chain. This means forming partnerships based on value creation, not just compliance and risk mitigation.”

M.Z: “That makes sense, but how do we get there? Our projects are heavily dependent on our supply chain, and it’s difficult to manage what happens at every level. We’re under a lot of pressure, and I need a practical way to ensure we meet these standards.”

Joel: “I understand the urgency. First, recognize that sustainability impacts, even those in the supply chain, are within your sphere of influence. You need to extend your sustainability practices up and down the value chain. This involves setting clear expectations and standards for your contractors and sub-contractors and incorporating sustainability criteria into your procurement processes.”

M.Z: “So, we need to set stricter standards for our partners? How do we ensure they follow through, especially when we’re already stretched thin?”

Joel: “It’s not just about setting standards, but also about building relationships and partnerships. Work closely with your supply chain partners to help them understand the importance of these practices. Provide them with the necessary support and resources to implement sustainable practices. Regular audits and assessments can ensure compliance, but the focus should be on creating a culture of sustainability. This is where project management comes into play. Additionally, your Project Management Office (PMO) can be instrumental in supporting resource management and aligning governance with your sustainability goals. The PMO should be fully tuned into what the organization aims to achieve in terms of sustainability, what needs to be disclosed, and how these objectives translate into project requirements.”


Masterclass in Sustainable Project Management held in Riyadh at the Global Project Management Forum in June, 2024

M.Z:“I understand I think. Can you elaborate on the role of project management in this context?”

Joel: “I sure can! Project management can be a driving force for the integration of sustainability into your organization. By adopting frameworks like the P5 standard, you can systematically track and report on various sustainability impacts. Project teams should be trained to identify and mitigate sustainability impacts and to engage with stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle. For instance, ensuring project health and safety, promoting fair competition, and encouraging equal opportunity are all critical elements that need to be managed proactively. Also, community engagement is a key aspect you need to strengthen.”

M.Z: “Community engagement? How does that fit in, and why is it so important?”

Joel: “Community engagement involves actively involving local residents as stakeholders in the project. It’s about treating the community with respect and ensuring their voices are heard. This includes developing a clear and consistent message tailored to the people impacted by the project, being open and honest about proposed impacts, and actively addressing any concerns voiced by the community.

Engaging with the community through town halls, media interviews, and other events helps build trust and improves public relations. It also enhances your brand reputation and visibility. This two-way exchange of information makes the project more effective, efficient, and beneficial for all involved.”

M.Z.: “But how do we get our contractors and sub-contractors to comply with these standards? Many of them operate independently.”

Joel: “Engagement is key. Start by clearly communicating your sustainability expectations and the benefits of adhering to them. Offer training and support to help them meet these standards. You could also implement incentive programs for contractors who demonstrate strong sustainability performance. Additionally, integrating sustainability criteria into your contract terms can enforce compliance. Remember, fostering a partnership approach rather than a top-down mandate will yield better results.”

M.Z.: “This sounds like a lot do. So, the key is to move beyond compliance and focus on genuine sustainability practices, right?”

Joel: “Exactly. Authentic sustainability practices lead to credible ESG strategies. They build trust with stakeholders, drive innovation, and create long-term value. It’s about moving from greenwashing to genuinely contributing to a sustainable future. By embedding these practices into your project management processes, you’ll not only meet investor expectations but also create a positive impact on society and the environment.”

M.Z.: “Thank you. This has been incredibly helpful. I now see the importance of integrating sustainability into our core operations and working closely with our supply chain to achieve this. We can’t afford to lose our funding, and I feel more confident about the steps we need to take. I will be reaching out again soon to get help on next steps.”

Joel: “You’re welcome. I’m glad I could help. Remember, sustainability is a journey, not a destination. Keep striving for continuous improvement, and you’ll see the benefits in your ESG performance and beyond.”

Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni is a highly respected expert in sustainable project management. He is a graduate of Ball State University and holds a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment. He has over 25 years of experience in project management, including government, finance, consulting, manufacturing, and education. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events related to project management and sustainability and has worked in more than 50 countries. In addition to serving as President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in the United States and being a member of the Global advisory board, Dr. Carboni is also the founder of GPM (Green Project Management) and a visiting professor at Skema Business School. He is also the GPM representative to the United Nations Global Compact, where he was a founding signatory of the Business for Peace Initiative and the Anti-Corruption call to action and a contributor to the development of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Dr. Carboni is the creator of the PRiSM™ project delivery methodology and the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management and has written training programs on Green and Sustainable Project Management that are offered in more than 145 countries through professional training providers, business associations, and universities. He is the lead author of the book "Sustainable Project Management."

One thought to “When Flimsy ESG Strategies Fail: A Dialogue on Building Sustainability Practices”

  1. Most organizations have a Procurement Guide of some sort.
    My view is of have sustainability approach embedded into this guide. The guide is to be used, procurement activities tracked and reported in the sustainability report.

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