The Real Meaning of ESG

You have been thinking that ESG stands for environmental, social, and governance.  After attending the daylong GreenBiz Group teleconference called VERGE Net Zero, I am convinced it stands for the Environmental and Social Gravy Train.

Today’s intellectual elites love aspirational standards that organizations should follow as they strive to be more socially responsible. And, the concept that ESG reporting is important because it helps investors evaluate whether or not to invest in a company.  However, after hours of platitudes and some frank admissions that things are just not working as planned, I conclude this is just one more gravy train.

This slang expression gravy train usually describes something as an easy way of earning a lot of money over a long period.  You usually use this expression in a disapproving way. In the United States, `gravy’ was slang for money or profit. Railway workers invented this expression in the early 1920s to describe a regular journey which provided good pay for little work.

Nobody …not one single person … brought up the blinding flash of the obvious: we can’t simply keep up our extractive uncontrolled consumption of the planet believing that in some magic way we will meet the energy, no less food and water needs, of a growing population with an appetite for goods and services using wind and solar.  Yes, for those of you who know, wind is a subset of solar … I know.

Our social responsibilities include recognizing that we have moved way beyond food, shelter, and living safely in our communities.  We are the lucky few who have these basic needs: rare to say the least for most of the rest of the world.  They are right to want them as well, but as they do, the energy footprint to meet those needs will rise as well.  We can’t build our way to a balanced supply/demand without flattening that demand curve.

It is interesting to note that today’s Climate Tech Weekly gave credit to the person who started the movement to reduce the demand curve: the legendary Amory Lovins (engineer and co-founder of Rocky Mountain Institute) who called the “largest, cheapest, safest, cleanest way to address the crisis” — conservation and energy efficiency. As he told GreenBiz in 2019, “Since ’75, the cumulative energy saved by reduced intensity is 30 times the cumulative extra supply from doubling renewable output.”

Maybe we will see a sea change.  I would hope so.  However, the lure of the governmental spending has brought forth thousands of firms who want to study how technologies will somehow solve the problem.  None of them … except for firms like us … have focused on flattening the curve.

One of my favorite professionals described this as: everyone is more concerned about getting their straw into the governmental punchbowl and sucking as fast as they can so they can get the most out of the boondoggle before anyone discovers it is waste (the Welfare Act for Scientists, Technologists, and Engineers).


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