The ESG Urgency: Insights into the Intersection of Sustainability and Financial Success

Key Takeaways:

  • ​ESG factors are tied to enhanced financial performance and health, improving a company's operational efficiency, risk identification and mitigation, as well as brand reputation.
  • Despite ESG's positive contribution to a company's financial health, ESG data may be unreliable because of inconsistent and non-transparent publication across the market or tainted and abused.
  • ESG is expected to assume a crucial role in the coming years, with investors considering ESG data during their decision-making.

In the last twenty years, environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors have steadily gained more standing in the investment decision-making processes of companies and investors alike. ESG encompasses several criteria that overstep the conventional financial indicators and is meant to evaluate companies' sustainability practices. The factors of ESG consist of three main components: environmental, social, and governance. Under the environmental pillar, the negative effects of a company's actions and operations on the environment are evaluated. Thus, the company's carbon footprint, resource efficiency, and many other aspects are considered. Additionally, the social pillar deals with employee, customer, and stakeholder relations, where human rights are emphasised, such as fair pay and occupational health and safety. Finally, the governance pillar is concerned with the quality of the company's management structures, and decision-making processes are considered with a focus on ethics, risk management, transparency, and accountability in mind.

It is no longer a secret that a company's financial results depend on its environmental management, social initiatives or corporate governance structures, as opposed to a few decades ago when traditional financial factors largely drove the financial results. The ESG factors do not only concern the financial aspects of a company; they also affect different business areas, such as sales or marketing, and make it evident that companies that invest in ESG can beat their own records and outperform their competitors.

Pros and Cons of Investing in ESG

Why should companies invest in ESG? Several pieces of evidence have underlined the positive and often highly lucrative relationship between investment in ESG and a company's financial performance. In particular, practice demonstrates that investing in ESG practices also improves companies' operational efficiency by reducing resource consumption and optimising processes. These operational changes may enhance employees' productivity or reduce costs, thus benefiting the company's overall profitability. For example, Walmart has adopted various measures to strengthen its operational efficiency and achieve cost savings, such as reducing packaging waste or improving energy efficiency in its stores. Walmart also optimised its transportation routes, reporting a 1.9% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, further curtailing Walmart's operational costs and contributing to its financial performance.

Alongside operational efficiency, companies adopting strong ESG practices tend to proactively identify and mitigate various environmental, social, or governance-related risks, thus preventing unexpected losses or costs and contributing to the company's long-term financial health and performance. For instance, BP suffered significant financial losses and reputational damage following various environmental disasters, most notably the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. To compensate, BP has enhanced its risk management protocols and safety measures and invested in renewable energy projects. Such measures have proven fruitful thus far, helping BP evidently improve its financial resilience over time.

Figure 1: BP Stock Value Decline 

Source: Finance Yahoo (2024)

In addition, companies committed to ESG investment often enjoy a stronger brand reputation and customer loyalty, which typically translates into boosted sales, increased market share, and pricing power. For example, Patagonia reported record sales of $1.4 billion in 2019 after launching its "Worn Wear" program, which promotes product durability, repairability, and resale, thus resonating deeply with environmentally conscious consumers.

Figure 2: Patagonia, Inc. Revenue Increase


Source: Statista (2022)

Nevertheless, despite the perceived benefits of investing in ESG practices, the reality is that there is a lack of available reliable ESG data mainly due to the companies’ different disclosure practices. Subsequently, it becomes impossible to determine the relationship between ESG factors and financial performance across different industries and regions adequately and systematically. The 2015 Volkswagen dieselgate emissions scandal reveals such data quality and availability issues/ In the case of Volkswagen, the company admitted that it had installed illegal software called “defeat devices” in its millions of diesel vehicles which were used to manipulate their emissions testing and to hide the emissions of pollutants up to 40 times above the permissible standards. Besides violating environmental laws and regulations, the illegal practice of Volkswagen was deceptive to consumers and investors alike, as the company misled them regarding its real impact on the environment, which proves that the information which is publicly available and widely advertised may not always be genuine.

Furthermore, the 2015 Volkswagen dieselgate emissions scandal is also a good example of how greenwashing ESG practices can adversely impact the company’s financial performance. Volkswagen not only had to deal with a lot of reputational damage after public outcry and criticism from the regulators and investors, but it also incurred substantial legal expenses and penalties due to class-action lawsuits and settlements. The company was ordered to pay more than $25 billion in settlements, which included buybacks of vehicles, environmental remediation and penalties for going beyond emissions thresholds. The consequences of the scandal were massive, as Volkswagen's stock price dropped by more than 40% and experienced its sales and market dip significantly..

Figure 3: Volkswagen AG Stock Value Decline

Source: Finance Yahoo (2024)

Future Outlook and Trends

In light of the above evidence in favour of ESG practices for the financial performance of companies, we should expect that ESG gets in the driver's seat, with more investors actively counting ESG factors in investment decision-making. Such a shift in sustainable investing is thus envisaged to amplify demand for ESG-themed investment instruments, such as mutual funds or ETFs. As a result, the identified lack of consistent and reliable ESG data will be addressed in due course, mainly due to technological innovations such as artificial intelligence and machine learning that will lend a hand in the collection, analysis and interpretation of ESG data. At the same time, we should also anticipate a more holistic approach to ESG data analysis that can delve deeper into a company's sustainability performance and produce more accurate and reliable ESG data. Such a comprehensive approach primarily revolves around collecting alternative, non-financial ESG data such as satellite images, supply chain mapping, or social media sentiment analysis tools that measure a consumer's perception of a company.


As we can see, investing in ESG has been positively associated with a company's financial health and performance, mainly enhancing its operational efficiency, risk identification and management, and brand reputation. Although the current landscape is characterised by inconsistent or sometimes unreliable ESG data, the evidence is unequivocal: ESG will play a pivotal role in investors' decision-making, thus raising companies' awareness of the importance of integrating ESG factors in their practices.

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