ESG: Learning from the awards

This year’s Relocate and Think Global People Awards attracted a high response in terms of entrants looking to see their actions on improving environmental, social and governance issues recognised for their innovative and flexible approaches. Dr Sue Shortland reports on what we can learn from this award category.


This article is taken from the Summer 2024 issue of

Think Global People magazine

Click on the cover to access the digital edition.
View your copy of the Summer 2024 issue of Think Global People magazine.
The subject of ESG – environmental, social and governance issues – has become prominent in the media, but primarily for all the wrong reasons. Recent press headlines concern the climate catastrophe, including the prediction that global temperatures will exceed the 1.5° set out in the Paris Agreement. The media also reports on the rising tide of mental ill-health, and divisive misogynistic and racially abusive actions and events taking place across societies globally. In addition, organisational malfeasance makes the news regularly with stories on issues such as tax avoidance (legal exploitation of a tax system to reduce tax liabilities) and excessive pay differentials between company bosses and workers.Despite these concerning and depressing headlines, there are good things happening in the ESG arena. It is therefore a positive sign to see the category attracting the largest number of entries for this year’s Relocate and Think Global People Awards was Excellence in ESG.Many of the entries focused on efforts to reduce carbon emissions, increase recycling and improve climate sustainability. There was also a strong focus on diversity, wellbeing and employee development, as well as charitable initiatives addressing the social pillar of the ESG triad. Some firms also reported on action to improve corporate governance in relation to activities such as leadership, standards compliance and ESG monitoring.The judges for this category engaged in lengthy conversations concerning the content and nature of the initiatives set out by the organisations that felt they truly excelled in one or more of these areas. We were impressed by the variety and depth of endeavours described by a wide range of organisations – and especially where integration of ESG activities was in evidence.

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An integrated ESG approach

It is important that actions taken to improve ESG affairs are linked together. This is because true excellence rests on an integrated approach. For example, to encourage employees to take an environmentally sensitive and sustainable approach requires leadership that walks the talk; a sustainable culture must be developed that is practised by those at the top. For example, a global mobility policy that suggests reductions in the use of business or first-class flights is unlikely to be welcomed and embraced when employees see top leaders not following a similar approach.With respect to wellbeing, efforts to improve mental ill-health through the provision of flexible and remote working as well as various support services cannot be expected to be effective if the organisation tolerates harassment and abuse in the workplace. Leaders are responsible for developing an inclusive culture and ensuring that inappropriate actions and behaviours are dealt with swiftly and decisively. This is not an easy task as we know from publicly named organisations that have developed and held institutionally racist and misogynistic cultures for many years.A further issue concerns remuneration. Pay can be a socially divisive issue. If employees are to engage with organisational initiatives, then they need to feel that reward systems are fair and equitable. When executive pay, published in annual remuneration reports, indicates huge bonuses for chief executives and other leaders, this creates anger and resentment. Clearly, this affects employee morale and wellbeing and creates social division more widely, particularly as the gap between rich and poor is reported as widening.

Achieving intended outcomes

A further point to consider is the degree to which ESG policies truly produce the outcomes intended. For example, it is important to ensure that efforts to improve environmental credentials are not simply greenwashing. While it is always good to be seen to be supporting and nurturing the environment – for example, through tree planting – this should not be carried out simply to disguise other carbon-intensive activities.It is also important not to pass on one’s own responsibilities to others, claiming ESG credit, but not actually fulfilling meaningful change. While organisations will wish to work with trusted partners that share their positive attitudes towards environmental sustainability, reducing social divisions and supporting charitable works, and by meeting ethical leadership and financial standards, ESG actions should be carried out by all partners, not simply placed on the shoulders of those relying on contract work from larger organisations.

Process adherence and flexibility

Certain sections of the global mobility industry put considerable emphasis on meeting standards protocols and achieving ISO recognition. It is always good to see high standards in place and clearly followed and reported processes. Notwithstanding this, it is also important to remember the value of flexibility (the theme of this year’s Awards) in terms of producing tailored and responsive actions that can improve ESG credentials. This requires a leadership team to develop and embrace a culture of flexibility such that employees can follow procedures while having the latitude to bring in creativity to ensure excellent solutions to evolving problems.

Complexity with commitment

ESG is a complex area. It comprises multiple strands and different objectives. Combining these to ensure a sustainable, socially cohesive and ethical organisational leadership culture is no easy task. Nonetheless, it is excellent to see endeavours to achieve ESG excellence. All of the awards entrants are to be commended for so doing. Whatever the steps taken, no matter if they may seem small, all contribute to a better future.For our own part, one of Relocate Global and Think Global People’s endeavours is our Think Women campaign to improve gender diversity in leadership and in global mobility. In addition, our strong focus on supporting the international schools’ sector to facilitate educational excellence when families face disruption through global mobility, and our endeavours to increase diverse participation in STEM subjects (science, technology and maths) are causes dear to our heart.We are committed to supporting organisations in their quest to improve ESG and, by showcasing their efforts through the Awards, to disseminate best practice.

Read about award-winning global mobility, leadership and education in the upcoming Summer issue of Think Global People magazine, with the teams and organisations being celebrated in the Relocate Think Global People Awards 2024. Secure your copy here.


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