I’ll start by making a few things clear: I support a clean environment, stopping or slowing climate change, and many other good things.  I also believe that corporations should (and many do) consider constituencies other than shareholders and seek to do more than increase shareholder value.   There.  I’ve gotten that out of my system.

But that doesn’t mean that I support “ESG” – the term, not the concept.  In fact, I’ve disliked the term ever since it became the acronym du jour.  Aside from the fact that I’m not a fan of acronyms generally, I struggled with “ESG” from the get-go for more substantive reasons.

First and foremost, I didn’t and don’t like the concept of bundling all things bright and beautiful into one easy-to-remember buzz word (or acronym).  It reminded me of some classmates in college who took copious notes in class, reduced their notes to 3X5 index cards, and then kept reducing those cards to the point where I figured they should be able to walk into the final exam, write one all-encompassing word in their blue book (remember those?), and get an A+.  That bothered (and still bothers) me, because life just isn’t that simple.

Another way of looking at it is that the components of ESG, when viewed separately, constitute a large percentage of all the things that companies and their boards need to consider these days.  Take “S” for example.  Presumably, it stands for “social,” and that includes a broad range of workforce and workplace issues, ranging from pay equity to safe workplace environments to diversity, equity, and inclusion (note that I have not used the acronym for those three matters), the company’s role in the communities in which it operates, and beyond.  Then go to “G” next.  It stands for “governance” – again, a very broad topic that has been the subject of many books, articles, and so on.  “E” may be the simplest of the three, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple.  Moreover, the factors that impact E, S, and G are all over the lot, and factors that impact one of the three may or may not impact either or both of the others.   

Among other things, the foregoing suggests that a board committee assigned oversight responsibility for oversight of ESG is taking on a huge and insurmountable task.  No wonder I’ve heard board members complain that they don’t know which committees have or should have responsibility for ESG!  

As if that weren’t enough, several pundits suggested that the term “ESG” was insufficient because it might be viewed as excluding certain things.  One pundit (whom I shall refrain from identifying) suggested that the proper term was “EESG,” with the first “E” standing for “employees.”  I heard other suggestions as well.  If this had gone on much longer, we might have ended up with something like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.  (If you’ve never seen Mary Poppins, deal with it.)

Accordingly, I think we’d all have been much better off if the term had not been invented, and if those who invented it had instead tried to address its components instead.  Hence the title of this posting (get it – “Rest in Pieces”?).

One last thing: Just because I don’t like the term ESG doesn’t mean I support the anti-ESG movement.  The folks in that movement haven’t joined it because they don’t like acronyms or for the other reasons I’ve given above.  Rather, it’s pretty clear that they oppose the things I believe in.