The End of ESG

26 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2022 Last revised: 25 Sep 2022

See all articles by Alex Edmans

Alex Edmans

London Business School - Institute of Finance and Accounting; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Date Written: September 17, 2022

Abstract

ESG is both extremely important and nothing special. It's extremely important because it's critical to long-term value, and so any practitioner or academic should take it seriously, not just those with "ESG" in their job title or list of research interests. Thus, ESG doesn't need a specialized term, as that implies it's niche. Considering long-term factors when valuing a company isn’t ESG investing; it’s investing.

It's nothing special since it's no better or worse than other intangible assets that drive long-term value and create positive externalities for wider society, such as management quality, corporate culture, and innovative capability. The following implications follow:

1. Companies shouldn't be praised more for improving their ESG performance than these other intangibles; investor engagement on ESG factors shouldn't be put on a pedestal compared to engagement on other value drivers. We want great companies, not just companies that are great at ESG.

2. Investors who greenwash are correctly being held to account. But so should other investors who fail to walk the talk, such as actively-managed funds that closet index or systematically underperform. Clients of non-ESG funds deserve the same protection as clients of ESG funds.

3. Practitioners shouldn’t rush to do something special for ESG factors that they wouldn’t for other drivers of value, such as demand that every company tie executive pay to them, force a firm to report them even if not relevant for its particular business, or reduce complex intangibles to simple quantitative metrics.

4. Many of the controversies surrounding ESG become moot when we view it as a set of long-term value factors. It’s no surprise that ESG ratings aren’t perfectly correlated, because it’s legitimate to have different views on the quality of a company’s intangibles. We don’t need to get into angry fights between ESG believers and deniers, nor politicize the issues, because reasonable people can disagree on how relevant a characteristic is for a company’s long-term success.

Keywords: ESG, CSR, responsible business, sustainable investing, intangible assets, externalities

JEL Classification: D62, G11, G34

Suggested Citation

Edmans, Alex, The End of ESG (September 17, 2022). European Corporate Governance Institute – Finance Working Paper No. 847/2022, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4221990 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4221990

Alex Edmans (Contact Author)

London Business School - Institute of Finance and Accounting ( email )

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European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) ( email )

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Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

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