Thinking about environmental, social and governance issues in business

Credit: Amélie Philibert - Université de Montréal

In 5 seconds

UdeM and its affiliated schools now have an institute to centralize research on the impact of businesses on society and the environment.

The Michael D. Penner Institute on ESG and the Scotia Bank’s Sustainable Development Innovation Observatory have been created to bring together research teams from Université de Montréal, Polytechnique Montréal and HEC Montréal.

The extent to which environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues are factored into financial decision-making is increasingly being used as a measure of a company’s sustainability and social responsibility, and more broadly its performance and success.

The environmental part refers to a company’s impact on the natural environment, including its greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, biodiversity protection and adaptation to climate change.

The social part refers to issues such as equity, diversity and inclusion, reconciliation with Indigenous communities and working conditions. Governance is the way a company is managed (transparency, anti-corruption safeguards, executive compensation, etc.).

“ESG implies an understanding that the economy is more than dollar signs and quarterly reports; it is a lever for a more balanced and sustainable society,” said Isabelle Martin, director of the new institute and observatory, and a professor in Université de Montréal’s School of Industrial Relations.

A space for collaboration and exchange

The Michael D. Penner Institute on ESG and the Scotia Bank’s Sustainable Development Innovation Observatory, which is part of it, will be a hub where researchers from UdeM and its affiliated schools can connect. While research on ESG issues is often the domain of a university’s business school, the Institute and the Observatory will bring together a variety of skills from different academic disciplines.

“This will enable us to look not only at corporate ESG innovations and the ways companies apply ESG criteria, but also at the ESG issues themselves and how the ESG criteria in corporate policies can be made more appropriate,” said Martin.

In addition to promoting interdisciplinarity between the University and its affiliated schools, the new institute will build bridges between research, the business community and civil society. Its director believes that establishing a dialogue between these sectors will raise awareness in the business community of its environmental and social impacts, and further the development of appropriate solutions by research teams.

“It can’t just be academics preaching to others,” she said. “There has to be a broader conversation involving society, financial players and industry to really see how ESG issues can fit into economic development today and contribute to achieving an inclusive and sustainable society.”