16 Reasons Why the CFO Must Prioritise ESG and Sustainability


The role of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) has evolved significantly beyond leading a company’s financial operations. Today’s CFO collaborates with various business functions, serving as a strategic ally to the CEO in the pursuit of maximising value. They influence portfolio strategy, oversee major investments and financing, and engage with essential stakeholders, all while heading a multifaceted, tech-savvy finance team. Communication, particularly with investors and boards, is crucial, establishing trust in the company’s strategic path.

Moreover, CFOs and their teams exemplify strong financial and team-building practices for the wider organisation, illustrating the connection between individual, team, and corporate performance.

Risk management is also a vital responsibility, encompassing cash, capital, resource allocation, compliance, and strategic direction, even as the role diversifies into non-financial areas.

For newly appointed CFOs, adapting to the position requires adopting certain mindsets and practices that ensure sustained success:

  1. Understanding the Landscape: New CFOs should assess and understand the organization’s value-creating resources and support structures. Aligning C-suite executives, business unit leaders, and board members can be challenging due to potential information gaps and biases.
  2. Proactivity in Action: Progressive CFOs seek opportunities to foster value creation, focusing on future competitive landscapes. This involves committing to innovation and digital transformation across the company.
  3. Strategic Risk-Taking: Effective CFOs understand that growth often requires making bold moves and adopting a “grow or go” mentality, recognising that avoiding all risks is in itself risky.
  4. Clear Communication: Top CFOs engage in candid discussions about the organisation’s economics with other executives, avoiding financial jargon while also preventing oversimplification.
  5. Risk Preparedness: While business inherently involves risk, a proficient CFO facilitates the organisation’s crisis response and builds long-term resilience. McKinsey’s research highlights that companies that performed best during the 2008 financial crisis had robust performance-balancing measures.
  6. ESG Strategy: Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives should be integrated with the company’s unique business model, not just for risk mitigation but also as a driver of growth. Evidence suggests a correlation between CFO involvement in ESG and strategic alignment, with positive expectations for shareholder value.
  7. Talent Development: Collaboration is key, especially with the CEO and CHRO, to invest in attracting, developing, and retaining top talent.

CFOs are integral to fostering innovation by providing necessary resources, while also ensuring efficient processes for innovation implementation. They must counter perceptions of being innovation barriers by encouraging a culture that values risk-taking and leadership.

In the realm of ESG, CFOs are increasingly taking a proactive role, aligning initiatives with the company’s strategic direction, with data indicating improved outcomes when CFOs are actively involved.

Digitisation requires CFOs to critically evaluate digital investments, focusing on long-term needs, process standardisation, and data architecture for successful automation.

Lastly, capability building is essential for organisational success, with CFOs playing a pivotal role in skill development and employee satisfaction, ultimately driving productivity and performance. Senior executives recognise the importance of capability building, but direct involvement in skill application remains an area for improvement.

As the financial landscape continues to evolve, the CFO’s role becomes increasingly complex and integral to the broader strategic and operational facets of the company. It’s a role that demands foresight, agility, and a holistic understanding of both the financial and non-financial aspects of business.

The Modern CFO Drives Sustainability and ESG Success

The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is increasingly recognised as a pivotal player in the sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) agendas of modern corporations. This strategic evolution is driven by the CFO’s unique position at the confluence of financial data, investment strategies, and risk management, which are all integral to sustainable practices.

CFOs hold the key to translating ESG initiatives into the language of financial value, connecting sustainability with business performance. Their expertise in financial modelling and analytics allows them to identify and quantify the risks and opportunities associated with ESG factors, thus making a compelling case for sustainable investments to stakeholders and investors.

Furthermore, as organisations commit to ESG goals, CFOs are tasked with integrating these into long-term financial plans, ensuring that sustainability is not just a peripheral activity but is embedded within the company’s core strategy. They are instrumental in securing funding for ESG projects, whether through green bonds, sustainability-linked loans, or other financial instruments.

The role of the CFO extends to reporting and disclosure, where they must ensure that sustainability metrics are accurately captured and communicated, thus promoting transparency and accountability. As regulators and the market increasingly demand detailed ESG disclosures, CFOs are at the helm, ensuring that their companies not only comply but also lead in best practices.

In driving the ESG agenda, CFOs also play a crucial role in corporate governance, championing ethical practices and fostering a culture of social responsibility. By doing so, they help build trust with consumers, employees, and the broader community, which is vital for the company’s reputation and long-term success.

Lastly, the CFO’s leadership is vital in developing the financial acumen of cross-functional teams, enabling them to understand the financial implications of ESG-related decisions. This cross-pollination of knowledge ensures that sustainability considerations are made at every level of decision-making, reinforcing the organisation’s commitment to responsible business practices.

In summary, the CFO’s role is central to sustainability and ESG success because it bridges the gap between financial performance and the broader, more nuanced landscape of social and environmental impact. The modern CFO, therefore, is not just a financial gatekeeper but a strategic visionary, guiding their firms toward a future where business success and sustainability are inextricably linked.

16 Reasons Why a Successful CFO Prioritises ESG and Sustainability

In the contemporary business landscape, the integration of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives into core business strategies is not just a moral imperative but a strategic one. The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is pivotal in driving this integration. By placing ESG at the top of the corporate agenda, a business can reap numerous benefits, both tangible and intangible, that translate into long-term value creation.

  1. Enhanced Brand Reputation and Consumer Trust: A business that is seen to be actively engaged in sustainable practices benefits from an enhanced brand reputation. Consumers are increasingly making purchase decisions based on a company’s ethical stance and sustainability record. The CFO, by championing ESG, can lead in crafting a narrative that resonates with consumers, thereby building brand loyalty and trust. This can lead to increased market share and a solid customer base that can be resilient even in challenging economic times.
  1. Attracting Investment: Investors are increasingly applying ESG filters when allocating capital. A CFO who can clearly articulate and demonstrate a commitment to ESG principles can attract a broader range of investors. By doing so, a company can potentially lower its cost of capital, as evidence suggests that firms with strong ESG records often enjoy better terms from investors who perceive them as lower risk.
  2. Regulatory Compliance and Forward Planning: With regulations around sustainability becoming increasingly stringent, proactive ESG practices can ensure that a company is not only compliant with current regulations but is also well-prepared for future legislative changes. The CFO can lead in establishing systems that ensure compliance, thereby avoiding fines, sanctions, and the associated reputational damage.
  3. Operational Efficiency: Sustainability initiatives often lead to increased operational efficiency. The CFO can oversee the implementation of energy-efficient processes and waste-reduction strategies that can result in significant cost savings. Moreover, sustainable practices often necessitate innovation, leading to process improvements and the development of new products or services.
  4. Risk Management: ESG encompasses a broad spectrum of risks, including environmental disasters, social unrest, and governance scandals. A CFO who effectively integrates ESG considerations into the risk management framework of a company can anticipate and mitigate these risks, protecting the company’s assets and ensuring long-term viability.
  5. Human Capital Advantages: Businesses that prioritise ESG are more likely to attract and retain top talent. Employees increasingly want to work for companies that reflect their values. The CFO can work in tandem with Human Resources to develop programs that improve employee engagement and satisfaction, reducing turnover and fostering a culture of innovation and productivity.
  6. Long-term Strategic Positioning: CFOs who embed ESG into their strategic planning contribute to the long-term positioning of the business. By factoring in ESG, companies can adapt to changing market conditions and consumer preferences, ensuring they remain relevant and competitive in a rapidly evolving marketplace.
  7. Access to New Markets: Sustainability can open doors to new markets, particularly in regions where environmental and social concerns are paramount. The CFO can lead the charge in adapting products and services to meet these needs, enabling the company to tap into new customer segments and revenue streams.
  8. Strengthening Stakeholder Relationships: ESG initiatives help in building stronger relationships with all stakeholders, including suppliers, communities, and governments. A CFO who champions ESG can foster goodwill and collaboration, which can be crucial during times of crisis or when seeking support for new ventures.
  9. Driving Innovation: A focus on ESG often necessitates innovation to meet sustainability targets. This can lead to the development of new technologies and business models, which can provide a competitive edge. The CFO, by providing the necessary resources and frameworks, can ensure that innovation is not only encouraged but also efficiently managed and effectively integrated into the company’s operations.
  10. Enhancing Predictive Power: Understanding the implications of ESG factors can enhance a company’s ability to forecast future trends and market shifts. A forward-thinking CFO can use ESG metrics to refine forecasting models, leading to better decision-making and strategic alignment.
  11. Building Consumer Confidence: In a world where social media can amplify any corporate misstep, a strong ESG proposition can build consumer confidence and provide a degree of protection against reputational damage. The CFO can ensure that ESG achievements are well-communicated and that sustainability reports are transparent and reflect genuine progress.
  12. Creating Synergies with Digital Transformation: Many ESG goals align with digital transformation initiatives, such as reducing paper usage or enabling remote work to decrease carbon footprints. The CFO can identify and exploit these synergies, driving both digital and sustainability agendas forward concurrently.
  13. Fostering Resilience: Sustainable practices often lead to a more resilient business that can withstand shocks. For instance, diversifying energy sources can protect a company from fluctuations in energy prices or supply chain disruptions. The CFO can play a crucial role in building this resilience into the financial planning and operations of the company.
  14. Positive Impact on Credit Ratings: Credit rating agencies are increasingly considering ESG factors in their assessments. A company with strong ESG credentials may benefit from improved credit ratings, which, in turn, can lead to lower borrowing costs and a stronger balance sheet.
  15. Legacy and Leadership: Finally, there is the aspect of legacy. A CFO who leads in the realm of ESG sets a precedent, shaping the company culture and defining its path forward. This leadership role goes beyond the financials; it’s about stewarding the company to be a force for good in society, which can be the most rewarding aspect of all.

By positioning ESG at the forefront, the CFO can guide a business toward a sustainable future that benefits all stakeholders and secures the long-term success of the company. The CFO’s role transcends financial stewardship, embodying the essence of sustainable leadership that drives innovation, builds trust, and ensures that the business not only survives but thrives in the face of future challenges.

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author avatar
Humperdinck Jackman
Leads the daily operations at ESG PRO, he specialises in matters of corporate governance. Humperdinck hails from Bermuda, has twice sailed the Atlantic solo, and recently devoted a few years to fighting poachers in Kenya. Writing about business matters, he’s a published author, and his articles have been published in The Times, The Telegraph and various business journals.


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