ESG data: Types, sources, challenges, and the path forward for sustainable business transformation

Subhashis Manna
Subhashis Manna
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Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations in the contemporary business landscape have become integral to sustainable business practices. Understanding various types of ESG data, their sources, and the challenges associated with leveraging them is crucial for organisations aiming at sustainable business transformation with the aim of net zero.

Types of ESG data

Environmental data: Environmental data focuses on a company’s impact on the planet. Metrics such as carbon emissions, water usage, and waste generation fall under this category. Understanding and measuring these factors allow businesses to assess their ecological footprint and implement strategies to minimise environmental harm.

Social data: Social data pertains to a company's relationships with its employees, communities, and stakeholders. Metrics include employee diversity, labour practices, community engagement, and product safety. This data helps organisations foster inclusive workplaces and build positive relationships with the communities they operate in.

Governance data: Governance data assesses the internal structures and practices of a company. This includes board composition, executive compensation, shareholder rights, and adherence to ethical business practices. Robust governance is crucial for maintaining transparency, accountability, and ethical conduct within an organisation.

Sources of ESG data

Internal data

Company disclosures: Many businesses voluntarily disclose ESG information in their annual reports, sustainability reports, and financial statements. These disclosures give stakeholders insights into the company’s commitment to sustainability and responsible business practices.

Internal audits and assessments: Organisations conduct internal audits and assessments to evaluate their own ESG performance. These evaluations provide valuable insights into areas of improvement and guide strategic decision-making.

Employee feedback and surveys: Gathering employee feedback through surveys can offer a unique perspective on the company’s social impact. Employees are often the best judges of a company’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and overall ethical practices.

External data

Third-party ratings and rankings: Numerous independent organisations evaluate and rank companies based on their ESG performance. These ratings, such as those from ESG research firms and indices, offer investors and consumers a comparative analysis of various organisations, aiding informed decision-making.

Regulatory filings: Governments worldwide are increasingly mandating ESG reporting for public companies. Regulatory filings, such as the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations, provide standardised frameworks for companies to report their ESG performance.

Supply chain data: External data can also be sourced from the supply chain, evaluating the sustainability practices of suppliers and partners. A transparent and sustainable supply chain is integral to an organisation’s overall ESG performance.

Challenges in utilising ESG data for sustainable business transformation

Data accuracy and consistency: Ensuring the accuracy and consistency of ESG data remains a significant challenge. Varying reporting standards and methodologies make it challenging for organisations to compare and benchmark their performance against industry peers.

Scope and relevance: Defining the scope of ESG factors relevant to a particular industry, sector, or company can be complex. Tailoring ESG metrics to align with a business’s specific risks and opportunities requires careful consideration.

Integration into decision-making processes: Integrating ESG considerations into core business strategies and decision-making processes is a hurdle for many organisations. Achieving alignment between ESG goals and overall business objectives requires a comprehensive cultural as well as mindset shift within the organisation.

Data privacy and security: With an increasing focus on transparency, ensuring the privacy and security of sensitive ESG data poses a significant challenge. Organisations need robust systems to protect this information from breaches and unauthorised access besides having a complete understanding of the lineage (traceability) of the ESG data, which may be both structured as well as unstructured data format.

Lack of standardisation: The absence of standardised ESG reporting frameworks globally makes it challenging for companies to present their data consistently. Harmonising reporting standards would facilitate more accurate comparisons and benchmarking.

Cost and resource constraints: Implementing robust ESG data collection and reporting processes can be resource-intensive. Small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular, may face challenges due to budget constraints and limited expertise in ESG-related analysis and reporting.

Path forward

To overcome these challenges and foster sustainable business transformation, organisations should:

Invest in technology: Implement advanced data management and analytics tools to enhance the accuracy, consistency, and security of ESG data.

Collaborate for standardisation: Actively participate in industry collaborations and advocate for standardised ESG reporting frameworks to streamline the reporting process.

Educate and engage stakeholders: Educate internal and external stakeholders, including regulators, on the importance of ESG data, fostering a culture of transparency and accountability. Integrate ESG into corporate strategy: Embed ESG considerations into the core of corporate strategy, ensuring alignment with business objectives and long-term sustainability goals.


Embracing ESG principles is not merely a compliance requirement but also an opportunity for businesses to thrive in an era where sustainability and responsibility are integral to long-term success. By navigating the challenges associated with ESG data and adopting a forward-thinking approach, collating reliable data across various sources and channels, and combining both structured and unstructured data to have a complete view, organisations can pave the way for a sustainable and resilient future.

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