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Is there an ESG competence crisis?

The burgeoning industry demands instant experts, but everyone has to start somewhere.

Photo: iStock

According to a meme doing the rounds among sustainable finance professionals, the fastest thing on earth at the moment – ahead of a cheetah, an aeroplane and the speed of light – is “people becoming ‘specialists’ in ESG”.

This may be a joke, but its popularity reflects rising concerns in the industry about a new phenomenon some have dubbed “competence greenwashing”.

Old environmental, social and governance (ESG) hands are appalled to find that bankers, fund managers and corporate executives with no experience of the field are being appointed to senior sustainability roles, and that having completed an introductory online course now qualifies as expertise.

How can such instant experts possibly be competent to grapple with complex topics such as climate change or biodiversity, they ask? Is it all just another ploy to pay lip service to sustainability while continuing business as usual?

As frustrating as this may be for those who have devoted decades to what was often a thankless cause to find their space suddenly overrun with noisy newcomers, their outrage is misplaced.

As sustainability has shot up the agenda, the number of people in every industry required to cover it has increased rapidly.

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