Crisis Management EY

How ESG Issues Are Being Discussed in The Boardroom Amid The COVID-19 Pandemic

Sponsored by EY

Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has risen to the top of the board agenda, and it has changed how we interact, work and think about impact.

© cienpies/iStock/Getty Images Plus

It might be easy to assume the current crisis may permanently shift attention away from environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns as management teams grapple with existential issues. However, the very actions companies are taking will likely bring them closer to the multi-stakeholder, long-term value principles that lie at the heart of ESG. There is just so much to explore in terms of the components of ESG and how boards are thinking about it, as well as how to productively build it into business decisions. And then, how does that fit in today’s environment?

In addition to working with clients, I am the host of the Sustainability Matters podcast. Sustainability is a business issue. Businesses are assessing the impact, risks and opportunities of megatrends, such as urbanization, digital and climate change. This podcast provides leading trends and practical advice around environmental, social and governance issues and opportunities facing businesses today.

In our most recent episode, I spoke with Ana Dutra, author, speaker, business advisor and board member of three public companies, four private companies and a number of not-for-profits, and Cigdem Oktem, governance professional, regional leader for the EY Center for Board Matters and nonprofit board member. Together, we explored the components of ESG, how boards may frame and prioritize relevant aspects in the context of their business decisions and what all this looks like in our current environment.

Some of the key takeaways from our discussion were:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the very issues that have been driving ESG concerns — managing resources, sustainability, community impact and employee well-being.
  • Boards should have a baseline understanding of what the company is doing and how these activities are housed within the processes and business decisions of the organization. There should be particular attention paid to any recent efforts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic response that can be considered ESG. This exercise can not only help an organization prioritize for action and create a plan but can also surface new opportunities.
  • The board’s responsibility is to support and reinforce the fact that they are behind the decisions that CEOs are making that nurture the long-term performance and the long-term progress.

You can learn more about this topic and the issues facing boards by connecting with the EY Center for Board Matters, which is a great resource for both board members and for corporate leaders.

For sustainability matters, follow me at @ChrisHagler or the EY Sustainable Impact Hub at @EY_sustainable on Twitter. You can subscribe to our podcast on our podcast page or wherever you subscribe to podcasts.


The views of the author set out in this publication are not necessarily the views of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization. Moreover, they should be seen in the context of the time they were made.