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What is Due Diligence in ESG: A Guide to Effective Implementation

Updated: Dec 23, 2023


Navigating the Landscape of ESG Due Diligence


In today's rapidly evolving business environment, the importance of sustainability and ethical practices is more pronounced than ever. This brings us to the concept of due diligence in the realm of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) – a critical aspect that is reshaping how businesses operate and strategize for the future.


This article delves into the essence of ESG due diligence, exploring its definition, significance, and the imperative steps for effective implementation.


We'll unravel how ESG due diligence extends beyond mere compliance, becoming a strategic tool for businesses to assess and enhance their impact on society and the environment.


As we navigate through the nuances of ESG due diligence, the article aims to provide a comprehensive guide that not only educates but also empowers businesses to integrate these practices for sustainable success and ethical excellence.



An image of a binder with the words 'DUE DILIGENCE' written on the spine, placed on a desk next to a pen and a pair of glasses. In the background, there are blurred printed graphs and charts, suggesting a thorough analysis or audit process.


What is Due Diligence in ESG?


Due diligence in ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) is a comprehensive process where businesses scrutinize and assess their operations and practices to ensure they align with environmental, social, and ethical standards.


It involves a detailed examination of a company's policies, procedures, and actions in relation to ESG criteria, aiming to identify risks and opportunities related to sustainability.


This process is not just about ticking boxes for compliance; it's about deeply understanding and managing the impacts a company has on the world around it.


Through ESG due diligence, businesses can uncover potential issues, align with global sustainability goals, and foster trust among stakeholders, including investors, customers, and the community.


It's an essential part of modern business strategy, reflecting a shift towards more responsible and transparent corporate behavior.



 

Laws and Standards Governing ESG Due Diligence


The landscape of ESG due diligence is shaped by a diverse array of laws and standards that guide businesses in their sustainability journey.


Globally, directives like the EU's Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD) and its successor, the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), set a robust framework for comprehensive sustainability reporting. These directives ensure transparency and accountability in how companies report their impact on sustainability matters.


In parallel, the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) focuses on enforcing responsible corporate behavior, particularly within global supply chains, with a keen emphasis on human rights and environmental impact.


Additionally, the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) in the EU plays a crucial role. It requires financial market participants and advisors to disclose specific ESG-related information, including the integration of sustainability risks and the consideration of adverse sustainability impacts in their processes. This regulation is particularly pivotal for investors, demanding transparency in how sustainability factors are integrated into investment decisions.


The concept of Principal Adverse Impact Statements (PAIs) complements SFDR. PAIs require investors to disclose the principal adverse impacts of their investment decisions on sustainability factors, thus providing a clear, standardized view of investment-related ESG risks and adverse impacts.


Alongside these, broader frameworks like the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) offer comprehensive guidance on aligning business practices with global sustainability goals.


In the United States, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) provides industry-specific standards for disclosing material sustainability information to investors, while the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) offers a more international perspective on sustainability reporting.


Together, these laws and frameworks form a cohesive structure for companies and investors to conduct ESG due diligence. They ensure not only compliance with regulatory requirements but also alignment with global best practices in sustainability and ethics, reinforcing the importance of ESG considerations in the modern business and investment landscape.



 


Key Steps in the ESG Due Diligence Process


(Below is a summary of the key steps in ESG due diligence. Click on each step for more detailed information.)


Initial Evaluation

The initial evaluation step in the ESG due diligence process is crucial as it lays the groundwork for all subsequent actions and improvements.


This phase involves a detailed and comprehensive assessment of the current state of a company's environmental, social, and governance practices.


  1. Assessment of Environmental Practices: This involves examining the company's environmental impact. Key areas of focus include energy use, waste management, resource conservation, and emissions control. The goal is to understand the company's ecological footprint and identify areas where improvements are needed.

  2. Review of Social Practices: Here, the emphasis is on how the company interacts with its employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities in which it operates. This includes evaluating labor practices, community engagement, customer satisfaction, and supply chain ethics. The objective is to gauge the company's social responsibility and pinpoint potential areas for enhancement.

  3. Governance Analysis: This step scrutinizes the company's governance structures and practices. It looks at board composition, executive compensation, shareholder rights, and compliance with regulatory requirements. The aim is to evaluate the effectiveness of governance mechanisms in ensuring accountability and ethical conduct.

Risk Assessment

Stakeholder Engagement

Data Collection and Analysis

Benchmarking

Developing an Action Plan

Implementation and Integration

Monitoring and Continuous Improvement


 

The Importance of ESG Due Diligence: An Expanded Perspective


Risk Mitigation and Reputation Enhancement:


  • Proactive Risk Management: ESG due diligence enables companies to proactively identify and address potential environmental, social, and governance risks before they escalate. This includes assessing regulatory compliance, identifying environmental hazards, evaluating social and labor practices, and scrutinizing governance structures. By addressing these risks early, companies can avoid costly legal entanglements and operational disruptions.


  • Enhancing Corporate Reputation: In today's socially conscious market, a strong ESG profile enhances a company's reputation. Businesses that actively manage their ESG risks are often viewed as more trustworthy and responsible, appealing to a broader customer base. Reputation enhancement is particularly significant in an era where information is rapidly disseminated and public perception can swiftly impact a company's image.


  • Crisis Preparedness: ESG due diligence prepares companies for potential crises related to environmental disasters, social issues, or governance scandals. By having robust ESG practices, companies are better equipped to handle crises, minimizing potential reputational damage.



Building Investor Confidence and Market Access:


  • Attracting Sustainable Investments: With the growing trend of sustainable investing, investors are increasingly scrutinizing companies' ESG performance. A thorough ESG due diligence process demonstrates to investors that the company is committed to sustainable practices, making it an attractive investment opportunity.


  • Enhancing Market Access: Companies with strong ESG credentials often find better market access. This includes easier access to capital, as banks and financial institutions increasingly factor in ESG performance in their lending decisions. Additionally, companies with strong ESG practices can tap into new customer segments that prioritize sustainability.


  • Long-Term Financial Performance: There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that strong ESG practices correlate with superior long-term financial performance. By focusing on ESG due diligence, companies can potentially achieve higher profitability and valuation over the long term.



Ensuring Long-Term Sustainability:


  • Alignment with Global Sustainability Goals: ESG due diligence helps companies align their business practices with broader environmental and social goals, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This alignment is crucial for addressing pressing global challenges like climate change, social inequality, and corporate ethics.


  • Operational Efficiency and Innovation: ESG due diligence often leads to more efficient operations. For example, environmental due diligence can lead to reduced resource consumption and waste, lowering costs and minimizing environmental impact. Social due diligence can result in a more engaged and productive workforce, while governance due diligence can lead to more effective decision-making processes.


  • Legacy and Long-Term Viability: Businesses that prioritize ESG considerations are not only securing their future but are also contributing to a sustainable future for the planet and future generations. This long-term view is essential for the ongoing viability of businesses in an increasingly interconnected and resource-constrained world.


 

Statistical Overview: ESG Due Diligence in 2023


Based on KPMG's 2023 ESG Due Diligence Survey, the landscape of ESG due diligence is evolving rapidly, with increasing integration of ESG considerations in major business decisions.


The survey reveals notable trends and challenges faced by investors and corporate entities in incorporating ESG factors into their strategies, highlighting a growing commitment to sustainable and responsible business practices.


Here are some key statistics from the KPMG's 2023 ESG Due Diligence Survey that are relevant to ESG due diligence:


Integration of ESG in M&A Agendas: About 74% of investors in the U.S. and 82% in the EMA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) region now include ESG considerations in their M&A agendas. This includes 72% of financial investors and 76% of corporate investors in the U.S., compared to 94% and 77% of EMA investors respectively​​.

Frequency of ESG Diligence: Investors are conducting ESG diligence more frequently, with 48% of EMA and 27% of U.S. investors indicating they will do it frequently (on more than 80% of deals), which is an increase from 25% for EMA and 16% for the U.S. in the previous two years​​.

Premium for ESG Maturity: A significant 68% of EMA investors and 62% in the U.S. expressed willingness to pay a premium for a target that demonstrates a high level of ESG maturity in line with their ESG priorities​​.

Consequences of Material Findings: Deal cancellation was reported as the top consequence of a material finding in ESG due diligence by 53% of U.S. and 66% of EMA investors. Conversely, 76% of debt providers to M&A stated they proceeded with financing or underwriting but imposed more conservative conditions due to material findings​​.

Challenges in ESG Due Diligence: Selecting a meaningful yet manageable scope was cited as one of the main challenges for ESG due diligence by 54% of EMA and 56% of U.S. investors. Additionally, 49% of EMA and 59% of U.S. investors named the lack of robust data or written policies at the target as a challenge​​.


These statistics underscore the growing importance and complexity of ESG due diligence in the business and investment world. They highlight the increasing integration of ESG considerations in major business decisions and the challenges faced by investors in conducting thorough ESG assessments.


 


Securing a Sustainable Future: The Pivotal Role of ESG Due Diligence


In conclusion, the journey of integrating Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) due diligence into business practices represents a transformative shift beyond mere regulatory adherence. It emerges as a strategic imperative, essential for enhancing a company's resilience, bolstering its reputation, and strengthening its market position.


This process is not just about navigating the complexities of compliance; it's about embedding sustainable and ethical decision-making into the very fabric of corporate strategy.


Through rigorous assessment and continuous improvement of ESG practices, companies can secure their own future while making substantial contributions to global sustainability efforts. By doing so, they not only align with the evolving expectations of stakeholders, including investors, customers, and the broader community, but also set a path for long-term, sustainable success.


ESG due diligence, therefore, becomes a key driver in building a business that is not only profitable and efficient but also responsible and forward-looking, ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.

 


 

As we navigate the complexities of ESG, it’s clear that the journey is one best undertaken together.


We invite you to join our vibrant ESG community, a collective force driving positive change. This is your opportunity to be part of a dynamic network where knowledge, best practices, and innovative ideas are shared freely, empowering you to make impactful decisions.


Together, we can amplify our efforts to shape a sustainable future.


Join us and become a catalyst in the global movement towards a more equitable, environmentally responsible, and socially conscious business landscape.









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