On How Capitalism Allows ESG to Win


Catherine Duggan headshot
Catherine Duggan

Head of Sustainability, Financial Services Advisory at Grant Thornton

Episode notes

On this episode of Dreams with Deadlines, we learn why today’s Environmental, Social, and Governance standards — or ESG — are about a lot more than aspirational, check-the-box marketing. Not in the face of accelerating climate change impacts and social inequity!

Guest Catherine Duggan, Head of Sustainability for Financial Services Advisory at the consulting firm Grant Thornton Ireland, briefs Host Jenny Herald on why robust ESG standards are critical to corporate resiliency and risk mitigation in today’s volatile world. With 2030 targeted internationally as the point of no return for combating catastrophic climate change impacts, businesses are tackling with increased urgency the mandate to put in place meaningful sustainability practices that are about far more than feel-good window dressing. Find out about the innovative measures corporations are adopting to advance social equity and environmental sustainability. It’s all about common sense that also makes compelling business sense.

What you will learn

  • Even though sustainability has been around as a concept since the United Nations defined it in 1987, progress has been slow, and time is running out.
  • ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) requirements and the role they play in good citizenship and environmental stewardship.
  • A call to arms: Climate change has accelerated steadily, and experts now believe that absent drastic adjustments to business practices and carbon emissions, the window to prevent irreversible impacts shuts in 2030.
  • There are scientists out there, especially in the oil and gas sectors, with deep expertise and nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change.
  • What it might look like if industry leaders were brave enough to pivot and become “energy companies” instead of “gas and oil companies.”
  • The uniquely influential role that large financial institutions are positioned to play in pressuring corporations to hedge against climate change-related exposures that could negatively (even drastically) impact markets. 
  • About global regulatory standards on the horizon, optimally written in concert with corporations and accessible to consumers and investors.
  • Practical steps that organizations can take to establish best practices in response to increasingly robust regulatory reporting and data validation standards.
  • Corporate ESG and sustainability today are less of a marketing feel-good feature and more of an essential resilience and risk mitigation strategy.  

Show notes

  • [00:04:59] A college Geology class blew Catherine’s mind, inspired reverence for the earth, and set the stage for her journey toward becoming a geoscientist and, ultimately, a force for change within the world of environmental sustainability.
  • [00:07:34] Why an advisory role within the financial services sector made sense for Catherine, who was in a position to navigate compliance and entrenched mindsets.
  • [00:08:49] About the concept of Sustainability, which was first defined by the United Nations in 1987: “Development that meets the needs of a generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
  • [00:09:39] What ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) is about and how it encompasses sustainability and extends what it means to be a good corporate citizen. 
  • [00:12:34] There remains discord and a lack of common understanding internationally with regard to the foundational elements of ESG.
  • [00:12:55] Corporations today are being held accountable to higher standards for:
    • Environmental stewardship
    • Human and social equity
  • [00:14:04] The decade ahead promises concrete ESG action rather than aspiration because climate change is real and more pressing than ever.
  • [00:16:07] Oil and Gas Industry Scoop: Looking for ROI and modifications in short-, medium- and long-term timeframes.
  • [00:18:27] About untapped resources within the gas and oil industry – experts who could help counter environmental impacts such as CO2. But decision-makers must first pivot. 
  • [00:19:37] It takes bravery for large oil and gas companies to develop environmental solutions. For many smaller businesses in the sector, it’s financially unfeasible.
  • [00:21:04] A look at what’s on the horizon in the realm of regulation and how financial institutions – managing global assets – have a fiduciary responsibility to hedge against climate change. In turn, companies must find ways to comply and reduce exposures.
  • [00:22:54] The EU is leading the way with regulations that are designed to promote investment in green companies, create “green credits” and a commitment to oversight among financial institutions and investors.
  • [00:26:24] Making sense of Alphabet Soup: Catherine explains efforts to optimize data to streamline corporate ESG terminology, acronyms, complex environmental initiatives and grading that are all but inaccessible.
  • [00:30:34] Catherine shares advice for organizations looking to put in place best practices to meet quickly evolving international standards with regard to disclosures and data validation. 
  • [00:35:54] Quick fire questions for Catherine:
    • What’s your dream? For everyone to unite and get along. Many individuals pulling in the same direction can make significant impacts!
    • What do you like most about working with your team at Grant Thornton? The mind-expanding diversity of backgrounds, expertise, and life experience. 
    • What are the biggest challenges faced by corporate leaders responsible for company-wide sustainability initiatives? 1) Getting educated. 2) Securing stakeholder buy-in and long-term support. 3) Coping with the pace of regulatory change and acceleration. 4) Fully committing to making change. It can be done! 

About our guest:

Catherine Duggan headshot
Catherine Duggan

Head of Sustainability, Financial Services Advisory

Catherine is a senior energy/sustainability specialist with 15 years global experience, who joined Grant Thornton in 2021 to lead the sustainability offering in Financial Services. Prior to joining the firm, she worked for 13 years with FTSE listed Tullow Oil, working extensively with multidisciplinary teams and increasingly focusing on ESG issues.

Additional resources