How to Measure a Company for ESG Performance

It’s no secret – to remain relevant in today’s market, businesses need to think about, and take action toward, how they’re making an impact on the planet. After all, sustainability is the new aspiration for companies, and the key to achieving it is developing enhanced ways to measure ESG initiatives, performance, and overall impact.

However, measuring ESG performance is easier said than done. So how can PE/VCs ensure they’re on the right track? It starts by determining how to measure the relative value of any given ESG metric and understanding the pitfalls to avoid misleading investors along the way. 

Understanding ESG Performance

At its core, ESG performance is a measurement that shows how a company is performing against set criteria of ESG (environmental, social, and governance) values. This measurement is used by investors to fuel decision-making and compare brands against competitors. ESG performance is also a leading factor consumers and employees use to determine if a brand is aligned with their values before deciding to do business with or work for them. 

When it comes to comparing ESG ratings, three main approaches are used by investors: 

  1. Comparing ratings to peers managing comparable portfolios
  2. Leveraging a standard industry benchmark index
  3. The investor’s history and internal data

However, each approach comes with caveats. The appropriateness of each depends on an investor’s particular situation, including the risk profile of the portfolio, the composition of stakeholders, and any fiduciary obligations. 

Comparing ESG performance is not an apples-to-apples game, though. When comparing specific ESG performance indicators, investors are often misled, given how much ratings can vary by industry, company, and value point.

Measures that Mislead Investors

Because one of the biggest challenges in measuring ESG performance has been the lack of consistency surrounding industry benchmarks and performance measurement metrics, investors face challenges when evaluating performance. This becomes increasingly tricky when comparing the performance of one company to another, including competitors. 

Whatsmore, most ESG data available is often self-reported by companies, which means there are significant gaps in data availability, not to mention somewhat biased information. 

Measurement also often fails to provide insight into messy underlying processes. For example, data shows that adding women to executive teams will produce better outcomes. However, that data point doesn’t take specific outcomes into account, such as decision-making that reflects diverse perspectives. This is why investors must look beyond the numbers to learn how, why, and under what circumstances the decisions came about. 

Performance Pitfalls to Avoid

It’s recommended that firms follow a “zoom in, zoom out” approach. This means “zooming in” to focus on better integrating ESG factors and their values within the portfolio while also being sensitive to issues of concentration, tracking errors, and risk. By “zooming in,” firms can create risk frameworks that pinpoint ESG threats and failures. By “zooming out,” they can better understand issues and underlying processes while gaining insight into bigger-picture strategies and opportunities. Without a broad and narrow look at investments, PE/VCs risk missing opportunities to improve performance. 

Finally, it’s imperative to maintain a single source of truth for ESG benchmarks and metrics. A trusted, reliable data source that arms management teams with confidence in their numbers and transparent reports for investors is critical to effectively measure ESG performance.  

Track and Measure Your ESG Performance with Altvia

To track and measure ESG performance with confidence, your firm needs to rely on the right tools to effectively transform your ESG commitments and data into transparent reports for your stakeholders. 

To turn your goals into an operational ESG strategy and effectively measure your progress along the way, a tool like Altiva can help. From evaluating risks, to monitoring competitor insight and internal performance, Altvia’s software can arm your firm with transparent, quantified metrics on the impact of your ESG initiatives. 

To see how Altvia can supercharge your firm’s ESG initiatives and performance tracking, contact a member of our team to start a conversation.

A traditional crm was built for general ‘customer’ scenarios

Software platforms have made the world a better place by making work a better place. Indeed the world is better off when people enjoy their jobs even marginally more, and workplace applications on big CRM platforms like Salesforce.com have done that and much more.

But the potential that platforms like these offer presents diminishing returns: once the platform provider has engineered too many industry specific components into its platform, its usefulness for other industries begins to be threatened, and with that so do the usefulness of the component tools built into the platform.

So it is with the CRM category that Salesforce.com has defined: it is generic enough to work for many industries, and yet still offers the potential for others to round off the edges and nail more vertically-oriented and extremely tailored software solutions.

Private capital markets are actually a great demonstration of this dynamic. Where generic CRM platforms simplify — appropriately so — to assume there’s a business, a customer, a sale, and service of that customer, there are a few industry-specific pieces that are missing.

Take for example, that investors become customers by investing through legal entities the GP raises. It’s a subtle but important nuance that just doesn’t make sense at a platform-as-a-service level (because it’s overly complicated for a simple one-time sale that many industries require), but which can easily be added without 10 years or software engineering. Once provided, the rest of the platform’s components become tremendously powerful again and you’re set to take over the world.

As a traditional CRM in our pillars methodology, these nuances must be present to properly account for investors in these legal entities, potential target companies and which are owned by these entities, the context of all interactions with these parties (as well as the appropriate overlap, ie co-investments), and how you’re arriving at finding these opportunities on both sides of the equation, such that you’re able to piece together what’s effective and what’s not. Not just because we say so, but because these are the very relationships and data that are key to the motivation behind a CRM in any industry.

It’s critical, too, that the valuable publicly-available information that helps to enrich CRM systems and save users painful steps of entering it themselves is fully-integrated at the platform level.

Again, look no further than the 3,000+ pre-built integrations that Salesforce.com — the creator of the CRM platform concept — has at a platform level to do so, and which only exists by way of holding just short of overly-specifying certain industry workflows that would present challenges to properly integrate.

Stakeholder reporting and communication (investor relations) draws on a range of datasets

The traditional “customer service” model of CRM systems once again makes overly-simplified assumptions about the customer relationship when applied to private capital markets.

In fifteen years I personally have yet to hear the terms “warranty” or “service call” in this market because it’s just not the same. But make no mistake, as uncomfortable as it may be to say aloud, customer service is more important now than ever and it’s constantly happening; the industry is, after all, considered to be a financial “service”.

As it turns out, that service is primarily information-based — it’s driven by data and takes the form of reports and analysis that drive decisions, and then end up again in investor-facing reports and analysis.

The foundational elements of a private capital markets CRM must be built such that they accommodate this data (like we discussed above), but so too that it can accommodate additional supporting data that investors (customers!) need in the context of service.

Oftentimes this supporting data — financial metrics and time-based values, for example — is believed not to meet the traditional definition of CRM and the natural thought is “well, better do this in Excel!”.

While I happen to believe Excel is still the greatest software application ever built, its introduction to this value chain we’ve discussed herein actually creates the problem many firms suffer from: key data needed to provide customer service (again: effectively the entirety of a firm’s reports and analysis) is now in disparate systems and detached.

Both of those dynamics are important and distinct: not only is this supplemental data disparate, but when brought together there is no logical association that can be made between the two data sets.

Allow me, then, to make the point very simply: not only can this financial and time-based value data (you may be thinking about is as “portfolio monitoring” or “accounting”) be a part of a CRM, it is arguably the most important part of a CRM because it’s at the core of what providing service to the customer entails — information that comes out of data!

Firms need a digital method to engage stakeholders (ie investor portals)

Investor portals are not new; in fact, for many of us — including myself — they conjure up horrifying nightmares in which we’re aimlessly guessing at folders to find the newest document we need.

So in lies the opportunity: not only have the portals we’ve come to hate not simplified the process of acquiring information, they’ve failed to create an entirely new experience that is “customer service” driven.

To be fair, this is not a B2C market where you’d be long out of business for not having focused on customer service and thus the customer’s technology-driven experience. But don’t expect to be around too much longer if you aren’t thinking about this shift.

Today’s institutional investors increasingly expect this same consumer-like experience, and a massive opportunity is being missed by not providing it. It’s not about providing them the experience they desire; it’s more about the ability to measure engagement that is had in return.

Put simply: what’s keeping the market from providing this experience is the availability of the information that’s required to create the service that provides the experience.

If you’ve hung in this long, you know that by focusing on your CRM, you have the data that’s required to manage the customer relationship and the technology-driven experience through which that information is shared to create a differentiated and opportunistic customer experience.