The Case for Including Data Stewardship in ESG

Article by Stefaan Verhulst: “Amid all the attention to environmental, social, and governance factors in investing, better known as ESG, there has been relatively little emphasis on governance, and even less on data governance. This is a significant oversight that needs to be addressed, as data governance has a crucial role to play in achieving environmental and social goals. 

Data stewardship in particular should be considered an important ESG practice. Making data accessible for reuse in the public interest can promote social and environmental goals while boosting a company’s efficiency and profitability. And investing in companies with data-stewardship capabilities makes good sense. But first, we need to move beyond current debates on data and ESG.

Several initiatives have begun to focus on data as it relates to ESG. For example, a recent McKinsey report on ESG governance within the banking sector argues that banks “will need to adjust their data architecture, define a data collection strategy, and reorganize their data governance model to successfully manage and report ESG data.” Deloitte recognizes the need for “a robust ESG data strategy.” PepsiCo likewise highlights its ESG Data Governance Program, and Maersk emphasizes data ethics as a key component in its ESG priorities.

These efforts are meaningful, but they are largely geared toward using data to measure compliance with environmental and social commitments. They don’t do much to help us understand how companies are leveraging data as an asset to achieve environmental and social goals. In particular, as I‘ve written elsewhere, data stewardship by which privately held data is reused for public interest purposes is an important new component of corporate social responsibility, as well as a key tool in data governance. Too many data-governance efforts are focused simply on using data to measure compliance or impact. We need to move beyond that mindset. Instead, we should adopt a data stewardship approach, where data is made accessible for the public good. There are promising signs of change in this direction…(More)”.