Has your team been tasked with implementing corporate social responsibility but doesn’t know where to start? The fortunate thing is that the environmental pillar is rich in opportunities for sustainable advancements. It all starts with the right team, measurable targets, and a long-term commitment to change.
Here's where your team can start.
CSR vs. ESG
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) includes four pillars: environmental, ethical, philanthropic and economic. Those lead to environmental, social and governance (ESG), which are the assessable metrics that hold an organization accountable. CSR is the ethos while ESG is tangible action.
1. The Influencers
You need the right dynamic of people to drive ESG. This is not an initiative that can be relegated to a committee. Without authority to make, fund and implement changes, ESG will stumble at the starting line.
“One challenge we see is when ESG is managed from the middle without support from leadership,” explained Tommy Linstroth, CEO and founder of Green Badger, a construction sustainability and LEED documentation platform. “Another barrier is when an organization doesn’t have internal expertise. Don’t hesitate to bring in an outside partner.”
“ESG is valuable to everyone, not just people with sustainability in their titles. It’s a form of change management that requires all hands on deck,” added Ingrid Mattsson, director of brand and corporate social responsibility for Uponor, a PEX plumbing manufacturer.
2. Measurable Targets
Metrics are essential to ESG. These aren’t feel-good aspirations—you are establishing tangible strategies with actionable steps. Everything must be measurable.
“Many corporations have intentions of doing good things, but they need data and milestones,” Mattsson cautioned. “ESG is a formalized commitment—there’s a plan, roadmap, standards and benchmarks.”
“ESG can feel amorphous because it’s not a rating scale with points. There’s also not a standard framework because everyone’s sustainability profile is different. So the best place to start is with benchmarking,” clarified Linstroth. “To set any goal, you need to have a firm understanding of where you’ve been and where you’re at. Otherwise, you’re shooting in the dark if you want a 10% reduction but you don’t know from what baseline.”
Every organization’s benchmarks will be unique, though there are good fundamentals all companies can pursue. It doesn’t matter whether you are aiming for low-flow toilets or renewables—any sustainable win can create a snowball effect.
“Try a 10% energy reduction,” Linstroth suggested. “Though it doesn’t sound world-moving, you have to start somewhere. If you don’t dip your toes in, you’ll never get anywhere.”
“With portfolios, measure environmental progress through percentages,” advised Charlie Popeck, president of Green Ideas Building Science Consultants. “What portion uses LED lighting, has water-savings fixtures, includes reflective roofs or contains low-E glass? Even determining how many trees have been planted on development projects is a useful statistic. It’s all about the numbers.”
Uponor’s ESG in Motion
Uponor is launching its ESG roadmap in early 2023. The manufacturer has been on a sustainability journey for decades but is using ESG to take them to the next level.
Targets have three- and five-year timelines and include:
- Energy intensity reduced by 15%
- Certified green energy at 100%
- Recycled waste at 100%
- EPDs for 90% of portfolio
Another major focus is greenhouse gas. Emissions are divided into three scopes; Scope 1 is sources that are generated directly by an organization, Scope 2 is secondary emissions associated with energy purchases, and Scope 3 covers those that originate along the supply chain, both downstream and upstream. Uponor is aiming for a 75% reduction in Scope 1 and 2 and 20% in Scope 3.
3. Forward Momentum
With quantifiable goals outlined, now it’s time to put them motion. The important thing is to remember that sustainability is a journey. While there will be a number of rapid wins, some efforts may take several years to fully realize.
“ESG is not something some you start on a Monday and by Wednesday it’s all accomplished. Adopt a mindset of continuous improvement,” emphasized Mattsson. “There’s also no shame if you have to extend a target’s deadline. Some of Uponor’s goals, like reducing Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions or achieving circularity with pipe scrap, don’t have off-the-shelf solutions. But that won’t stop us from moving toward them.”
“ESG is no different than any other long-term business strategy,” Linstroth argued. “Just like launching a new product, you have to take sustainability seriously with research, development, and resource allocation. ESG is about progressively demonstrating impactful change.”
How ESG Impacts a Building Project
High-performance buildings are one of the most effective ways to fulfill environmental targets. As with all ESG, the big picture is important to keep in focus. The upfront investment in an ecologically responsible facility is always one time, stressed Charlie Popeck, president of Green Ideas Building Science Consultants. The true cost is in operations and maintenance because those accumulate daily.
Popeck uses four criteria to create high-performance facilities that deliver lifetime ESG returns.
- Orientation. Minimize solar heat gain to reduce cooling loads, such as an east-west axis or strategically locating windows.
- Building envelope. Create an energy-efficient capsule that’s as tight as possible, paying close attention to floors, walls and the roof.
- Mechanical systems. Avoid oversizing, which wastes energy. When energy needs are reduced from the beginning through orientation and envelope, HVAC must be right-sized accordingly.
- Renewables. Decreased energy loads means you’ll need a smaller system, which can help lower the cost.