Thinking on your Feet: Why ESG Is the Ultimate Fight

If you’re a fan of mixed martial arts, you probably know the term “fight IQ,” which involves being able to adapt quickly during a fight. Something similar happens in the world of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG).
If you’re a fan of mixed martial arts, you probably know the term “fight IQ,” which involves being able to adapt quickly during a fight. Something similar happens in the world of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG).

If you’re a fan of mixed martial arts, as I am, you probably know the term “fight IQ.” According to expert Chael Sonnen, fight IQ involves being able to adapt quickly during a fight. Consider a match between two opponents: one a traditional wrestler, who grapples on the ground, and the other a striker, who punches and kicks from a standing position. If they followed their traditional strategies, the wrestler would go for the “take down” and keep the fight on the ground as a wrestling match, but the striker would try to stay upright to get a knockout.

However, sometimes the traditional strategy doesn’t work out. Maybe the wrestler is also good at punching from a standing position, which means the striker can’t rely on their usual approach to fighting a wrestler. A striker with a high fight IQ would need to find a different tool in the toolbox. Instead of keeping the fight on the wrestler’s terms, maybe the striker would allow for a takedown but would then use jujitsu skills to try to find a submission opportunity. That’s the key to fight IQ: you have to know your strengths but be able to adapt when the time is right. You need to see reality clearly and be self-aware enough to choose a different path, perhaps an unanticipated one, to meet your personal goal of winning that fight.

Something similar happens in the world of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG). ESG is a multifaceted approach that encompasses environmental good governance, worker safety, corporate citizenship and overall sustainability to benefit the global community. To come to grips with it, ESG managers need to change their traditional approaches and adapt to what ESG demands of them. In other words, they need a very high ESG IQ.

Here are some examples of how you can tackle ESG using your ESG IQ.

Round 1

You’ve been tasked with carrying out sustainability initiatives that reflect Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy of the Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) by the United Nations Global Compact. (See: How Your Company Can Advance Each of the SDGs | UN Global Compact for an overview of the goals).

  • Your ESG IQ tells you that your facilities’ locations are your biggest strength. You have the option of many clean energy providers (solar, wind and geothermal) and you know which provider has the type of energy that you need at your facilities. You consider how much sun and wind each location receives, as well as the balance of energy you need for your facilities to operate both constantly and intermittently.
  • You also know that your biggest weaknesses are budget and inconsistent environmental resources. Ninety percent of your operations are in areas with high levels of sunlight, but the other ten percent don’t have adequate sunlight for a purely solar approach. You’ll need to take advantage of spots with higher levels of wind to make up for the lack of sunlight.
  • When you get the bids from the contractors, you use your ESG IQ to procure a mix of energy sources that makes the most sense for your business. You negotiate with the contractors, make quick decisions about whether to go with your preferred seller or the cheaper one, adapt to last minute changes that your management makes to your budget and weigh your current and long-term risks.

Round 2

You’ve been tasked with implementing diversity and equality initiatives that align with SDG Goal 5: Gender Equality.

  • Your ESG IQ tells you that as the Chief Diversity Officer at your company, you need quick and highly visible results, which you’re good at because of years of networking. You’ve worked with many accomplished professional women and LGBTQIA+ individuals, and you know how to navigate HR challenges.
  • On the other hand, your company does not have many women or LGBTQIA+ individuals in a position to take a leadership role. You also know that the company’s family paid leave differs greatly across your office locations.
  • You use your professional network to find people with skills that match current managerial job openings at your company. You talk to upper management about why family leave is important for both men and women. You pivot when you come up against hard resistance. It isn’t an easy fight. There are bruises and scratches along the way. But you didn’t take on your role because you thought it would be easy.

Round 3

Your leadership has tasked you with implementing initiatives that align with SDG Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being.

  • Your strengths? You know about nutrition and exercise. You are up-to-date on mental health theories, and maybe you even have a background in psychology. You’ve developed employee wellness programs in the past, and you know what resources your company has to help employees develop sound minds and bodies.
  • Your weakness? You are not an expert in workplace injury requirements. Luckily, you have Tom, who is a safety professional, in your corner. Think of Tom as your “safety man,” much like you see fighters have a “cut man” in their corner to tend to injuries between rounds. You are going to need your safety man for this assignment because a comprehensive health and well-being program for employees not only fosters safety, but also prevents injuries from happening in the first place.
  • You begin by learning about the possible work hazards, stressors, daily risks, etc. that impact your employees. You talk to HR about work hours, overtime and other stressors. You examine the office gym equipment. Finally, you take all of that into consideration to develop your proposal for an employee health and well-being program.

The Final Round

This is where your fight IQ is key. Perhaps you have to readjust, change your strategy, consult with your corner and change the goal to be incremental (e.g., accept that the fight is going to a decision) instead of immediate (e.g., ending in a knockout). In ESG terms, this might mean getting some of what you want now while accepting that other goals will need to be implemented over time as resources allow.

There is a saying in the world of mixed martial arts that goes something like this: “you leave something of yourself in the ring after every fight, even if you win.” When meeting ESG goals, you may leave a bit battered at the end. Your hair may be frazzled after a long day at the office, and your spirits dampened when things don’t go your way. Contrary to a fight, it is unlikely that you’ll end up at the hospital afterword, but you will leave a part of yourself at work. The fighters with the best fight IQs are often in the winning position. So, when faced with such a large undertaking as ESG, you should bet on yourself, and bet on a high ESG IQ.

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About Jessica Sarnowski

Jessica Sarnowski is an established thought leader who specializes in translating complex regulatory developments into compelling stories that reach a wide audience of EHS professionals. Jessica worked for Intelex Technologies, where she served as the global compliance content lead and then as a senior manager, Strategic Alliances. She has over 10 years of environmental policy and law experience, most recently as the senior content marketing manager for Enhesa. She is currently working as an independent consultant and can be reached through LinkedIn:

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