Shawn Warmstein, VP, Partner & Corporate Communications Practice Leader|Jun 4, 2024

ESG was declared a “dirty word” in corporate America by the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, as the paper wrote about how companies are walking sideways from publicly talking about environmental, social, and governance initiatives. 
While underlying factors – measurement misalignment and lack of regulatory oversight – are major culprits for ESG’s sputtering momentum, so too is the “war on Woke.” 
Examining the role communications played in activism against ESG, I think we should be discussing the buzz phrases and virtue-driven messaging previously used. Just like some ESG programs appeared to be an add-on to a corporation’s core strategy – equivalent to a shiny piece of jewelry – so too have ESG communications.  
When something feels inauthentic to stakeholders, employees, and customers, desired support (whether emotional, financial, or operational) is lacking. Mix-in a toxic political and social climate looking for enemies, and the current situation doesn’t seem so surprising.  
So what happens next? ESG dialogue may no longer be front-and-center, but many of these initiatives aren’t going anywhere. The fact remains that sustainability has a business case and social purpose. Governance can be a good thing. 
Learning from the past, a new lexicon isn’t necessary and staying true to a brand’s voice is essential. If something makes business sense, communicate that value. And don’t just share the “what,” but the “why.” While the words might change around ESG, the need for sound communication doesn’t. 


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