Getting up to speed on ESG
January 5, 2021 | By Dean Sevin Yeltekin
As the University of Rochester’s Outreach Business Librarian, Robert Berkman navigates and condenses vast quantities of information on business-related topics on behalf of the faculty, staff, and students at Simon Business School.
Recently, Robert applied his research acumen to the topic of ESG—the environmental, social, and governance criteria used by investors to evaluate companies. As he wraps up the second part of A Roundup of (Almost) Everything You Need to Know About ESG, he answered a few questions on the direction the ESG conversation is taking.
Dean Yeltekin: What does the role of the Outreach Business Librarian entail?
Berkman: I spend most of my time advising and teaching undergraduate and graduate students how to conduct quality online research. For example, I will often get an email from a student at Simon who is conducting market research for a business idea as part of a class project or internship. Typically, I will walk them through the business resource guide I’ve put together so they can confidently access information on professional databases, the open Web, and alternative sources. While scholarly publications are certainly critical for students, for certain business research projects, they’re not always timely or practical enough. In those cases, students can also benefit from learning advanced strategies for doing precision searches on the open Web.
Occasionally, I will help Simon faculty members access information as well, but what faculty requests most often is a visit to their classes to demonstrate to their students how to find and access different types of library resources. I have given these sessions most often to marketing, entrepreneurship, and accounting classes.
Dean Yeltekin: How did the topic of ESG come onto your radar, and what prompted you to create an ESG resource guide?
Berkman: Several months ago, I was trying to discover what topics are currently top of mind at Simon right now so that our library can be prepared to make a contribution. I read the Dean’s Corner blog post on ESG and climate change and realized that if ESG is important to the dean, it’s going to be important to Simon as a whole. I also discovered that ESG is a topic that everyone in the business community should be informed about. So I did some deep research into the topic, which resulted in a two-part article on the background, analysis, and resources business researchers need to know to be savvy about ESG. Because it’s such a timely issue, I focused on gathering news and resources from the past year, particularly the SEC’s series of public announcements in 2021.
I also included a question about ESG in a recent survey of Simon faculty to find out what they’re thinking about and what they need from the library. In that survey, the faculty responded that they would most like to get access to case studies and teaching resources. So our library is now discussing a plan to create and publish a resource guide in 2022.
Dean Yeltekin: Can you highlight some of the findings from your ESG research?
Berkman: It was interesting to learn how much ESG is influencing not only investment decisions but also the public perception of a company. Increasingly, companies may need to look at their ESG reputation as a retention factor, because potential new employees, particularly young people, are concerned about climate change and other ESG measurements. ESG is becoming one more factor in how potential new employees decide which companies are in sync with their values.
Also, the SEC has never made ESG reporting mandatory, but that may be about to change. Over the past year, the SEC has released multiple statements that strongly hint at an early 2022 decision to make ESG a required part of public company reporting. Observers don’t expect an ESG requirement to be effective until 2023, but every company needs to be prepared for it. In advance of this development, we’re starting to see some companies wonder if they have the tools and resources to accomplish what is being asked of them. We may see some backlash or concern here.
Dean Yeltekin: What are some of the unanswered questions you have explored in relation to ESG?
Berkman: The primary issue I’ve encountered is that there is no uniform, standard way to rank companies on ESG. There are a lot of expensive, fee-based ranking services that operate independently to try to make sense of it all, but it’s tricky because there is no agreement on what is being measured and how. You can look at one ranking service and it will give a company a high ranking on the environment, while another ranking service will give the same company a middle or low ranking. You don’t know which one to believe. Eventually, there will be a set of global standards, but we’re not there yet.
The second part of the two-part series on ESG information and resources will be a comparison of the fee-based ESG-subscription databases. I will also be reaching out to individual faculty members at Simon to learn how our library can support their own ESG research. This is an area that’s changing quickly, and there is still a lot of ground to cover. I look forward to sharing what I learn with the Simon community.
To read the first install of Robert Berkman’s two-part series on ESG resources, click here.
Dean, Simon Business School
Bob Berkman is an information professional, editor and media studies professor with a special focus on information literacy, online research and emerging digital information technologies. He served as Outreach Business Librarian at the University of Rochester from 2015 to 2021.
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