Three Ways to Develop an ESG Framework that Works

In June, Atlas Technical Consultants published its inaugural environmental, social, and governance (ESG) report.

We learned that solving modern climate challenges requires a great deal of collaboration with our stakeholders and began aggregating our findings, so that other firms may learn from our experiences and gain some ideas of their own.

Earlier this month, we published (4 Things We Learned In Planning Our Inaugural ESG Report), the first in a series of two articles that cover what we learned in the process.

In part two, we provide you with a framework for success:

1. Set ambitious targets you can accomplish

When you’re starting out in ESG programming, you might feel like a kid in a candy store. You’ll be tempted to shoot for the moon and set ambitious targets for all aspects of your business.

For example, we use a lot of fleet vehicles that we want to convert to hybrid. Although it was tempting to set a target to go 100% hybrid, we chose 50% instead to account for delayed technology or infrastructure enhancements. But you’ll still encounter resistance when you roll out ambitious targets because even manageable goals are intimidating. It’s easy to worry about whether the supply chain allows us to purchase enough hybrid vehicles.

In sustainability reporting, setting ambitious yet attainable targets demonstrates your good-faith intentions of achieving them. What’s important is to track and report them transparently. This includes explaining why you may not have been able to achieve them.

We developed these ambitious targets:

  • Safe and healthy infrastructure:
    • Reduce severity of injury cases by 50%.
    • Complete 50,000 projects that contribute to safe and resilient infrastructure and environmental assets.
  • Sustainable and resilient systems:
    • Reduce Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 50%.
    • Transition 50% of fleet vehicles to hybrid or electric models.
  • Diverse, equitable, and inclusive communities:
    • Achieve and maintain gender pay equity across all levels of our organization.
    • Annually train 100% of employees on unconscious bias.
    • Contribute 10,000 volunteer hours in science, technology, engineering, art and math that prioritize advancement of underprivileged communities.

The first step is to be laser-focused on what is most relevant to your business. Be ambitious but avoid overpromising and underdelivering. At the same time, stretch your organization to do more than what looks possible.

Strike a balance.

2. Establish clear processes for measuring and tracking

One of the most difficult tasks in implementing an ESG process is choosing what to track and getting the data. We found it difficult because Atlas Technical Consultants grew out of many different companies coming together, and we continue to acquire new ones. Each company has its own systems, culture, and ways of generating data.

We had to establish clear processes for tracking and reporting systems for each of our targets. For example:

  • To track our injury cases and accomplish our target, we are using our mandatory reporting system and continuing to use leading indicators to drive a safety culture.
  • We needed a project database with metadata around ESG indicators.
  • We needed a greenhouse gas tracking and reporting program and cooperation from our landlords.
  • We needed a way to track our volunteer hours and for employees to be able to easily report them.

When you establish tracking and reporting systems, remember to be flexible so they can evolve and expand, depending on how your targets flex.

One of the biggest challenges we face is measuring our Scope 2 emissions: electricity and gas usage. As a company that does not own our buildings, we have to collaborate with landlords and facility managers to get the right data. We’re still working on implementing the most effective processes to measure those emissions.

3. Engage the younger generations

Although people of all ages care about working for purpose-driven companies, this desire is particularly strong in younger employees.

In 2020, Zeno conducted a “Strength of Purpose” study, finding that a well-understood company purpose has a strong business benefit. Consumers are four to six times more likely to buy from, trust, champion, and defend companies with a strong purpose. Those consumers are your employees as well as your clients.

By far, younger generations are ahead of the pack. The survey found that 92% of Gen-Z and 90% of millennial respondents would act in support of a purposeful brand, compared to 81% of Gen-X consumers, 77% of Baby Boomers, and 73% of respondents aged 74 and up.

ESG matters deeply to the younger generations. They are particularly concerned about climate change; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and community investment.

As companies invest more in ESG, it’s easy to justify by saying “our clients want it,” or “our investors are demanding it.” The bottom line is: what kind of legacy will your company be leaving for our future generations? Will your company be sustainable in the long run?

To stand the test of time, you must be able to answer why you are investing in ESG, set ambitious targets, and follow through.

Priya Jain | Chief Growth Officer & ESG Chair| ATLAS

Headquartered in Austin, Texas, Atlas is a leading provider of infrastructure and environmental Solutions. We partner with our clients to improve performance and extend the lifecycle of built and natural infrastructure assets stressed by climate, aging, and economic impacts. we lead with our heart and are passionate about creating sustainable and healthy communities as we deliver smarter, safer, and more resilient solutions for our clients.

Read the Atlas 2021 ESG Report

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