ESG Metrics: Reshaping Capitalism?
In the past twenty-five years, the world had seen an exponential growth in the number of companies reporting environmental, social and governance (ESG) data. Investor interest in ESG data also grew rapidly. A growing belief that increasing levels of social inequality and natural environment degradation were pressing problems that the capitalist system was failing to resolve had led many stakeholders to advocate for changes in measurement and corporate reporting as a potentially powerful "lever" that could move the discussion from "Reimagining" to "Reshaping" Capitalism. Some suggested that increased transparency could change corporate behavior, increase corporate accountability and lead to better outcomes for employees, customers, the environment and local communities. Others suggested that ESG data were value relevant from an investor standpoint and that firms "doing good would do well." According to this view, investors that used ESG data would be able to make better investment decisions and widespread disclosure of such data would improve market efficiency. However, some commentators doubted the sincerity of company ESG disclosures and suggested that firms that did good were less competitive, and therefore earned lower returns for their shareholders. As the business community entered the second half of the second decade of the twenty first century, whether the widespread adoption of ESG metrics would happen -- and whether, if it did, it would lead to systematic change -- was very much an open question.
- 2016 HBS
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