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ESG has moved from sidelines to strategy — here's what that means for Houston companies

Amy Chronis of Deloitte shares why now's the time to invest in ESG — and the impact this movement is having on Houston. Photo via Getty Images

The Houston business community has embraced environmental, social, and governance investments, with a majority of deals in the past two years valued at $50 million or more, per PitchBook Data, Inc. In 2022, Houston companies invested just more than $1.25 billion in clean technology, climate technology, and impact investing. Nationwide, ESG investments totaled north of $15 billion across 330 deals, according to Deloitte’s latest Road to Next report, released late in 2022.

What might this mean for Houston companies? In our view, it demonstrates that ESG appears to be moving from sideline to strategy and in the process, providing potential wins across multiple fronts for companies. As companies prepare for upcoming SEC regulations around reporting greenhouse gas emissions, much of the work they’re doing is not simply “because we have to.”

Increasingly, businesses are realizing that prioritizing ESG can be good for the bottom line, for the planet and for employees. As they prioritize ESG, they’re involving teams, accepting accountability and often reaping the benefits of ESG reporting, according to Deloitte’s 2022 Sustainability Action Report. The report surveyed 300 legal, accounting, finance, and sustainability leaders from companies with annual revenue of $500 million or more. Here are some ways that ESG activity is becoming part and parcel of corporate life.

Teamwork. Fifty-seven percent of executives surveyed note that their companies have assembled cross-functional ESG teams, and another 42 percent say they plan to. That’s a considerable increase from 2021, when a similar study showed that only 21 percent of respondents had such teams in place.

Accountability. A large majority (89 percent) of executives polled have enhanced internal goal setting and accountability mechanisms to promote readiness. These executives realize that their companies can have both an impact and dependence on the environment and society, and that ESG reporting measures may not just be reporting requirements, or a box to check, but a meaningful way to align strategy with commitments to sustainability and the social good.

Proactivemoves. Nearly all (96 percent) of executives surveyed plan to seek external assurance for the next reporting cycle. Among executives in the oil and gas sector, 67 percent say they will continue to obtain assurance and 31 percent will seek it for the first time. Executives are also proactively investing in technology and tools to help them meet reporting needs, with around half saying they are very likely to invest in these tools in the next 12 months. These planned investments indicate that leaders appear confident in the business benefits of ESG.

Reaping the benefits. ESG commitments, it turns out, can be good for business. They are yielding benefits, including attracting and retaining talent, increasing efficiencies and ROI, boosting trust among stakeholders, and enhancing brand reputation. Another, perhaps surprising benefit of enhanced reporting is that it can enable some companies to premium-price their products, a benefit acknowledged by nearly half (49 percent) of respondents.

Facingchallenges. Businesses have challenges, especially when something new comes along. While many executives (61 percent and 76 percent, respectively) are prepared to disclose Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions, Scope 3 remains a challenge because it involves data from external vendors. As such, only 37 percent of executives surveyed are prepared to disclose Scope 3 details, the top challenges cited being lack of confidence in the data supplied by external vendors as well as lack of data availability.

In just over a year, we’ve seen ESG reporting morph into a powerful tool, one that can inform business strategy. We expect that in the coming years, leaders may see even more benefits from ESG reporting and integrate it even more fully into the way businesses are managed.


Amy Chronis is the Houston managing partner and vice chair of energy and chemicals at Deloitte. Geoff Tuff is the sustainability leader for ER&I practice at Deloitte. This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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A View From HETI

A View From UH

ACCEL has opened applications for next year. Photo via Getty Images

Calling all cleantech startups founded by innovators of color — an inclusive accelerator program is now accepting applications.

Advancing Climatetech and Clean Energy Leaders Program, or ACCEL, has opened applications for it's second cohort. The program — from Greentown Labs and Browning the Green Space — provides access to funding, networking connections, incubation space, mentorship, resources, and opportunities for energy tech founders of color for a year.

“ACCEL is one of the most impactful, meaningful programs we’ve run to date,” Greentown Labs CEO and President Kevin Knobloch says in a news release. “We are eager to expand upon the great success and momentum of year one, and to welcome another incredible cohort of BIPOC-led startups that are developing much-needed climatetech solutions. We’re equally committed to helping these companies accelerate and deploy their solutions, while also helping to build a more diverse, inclusive climatetech workforce—ACCEL sits at the nexus of those two critical efforts.”

The program, supported by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, accelerated six startups this year — Active Surfaces, DrinKicks, EarthBond, florrent, frakktal, and SpadXTech.

“The ACCEL Program directly aligns with our mission to ensure that climatetech jobs and wealth creation opportunities are available to all residents of the Commonwealth,” Emily Reichert, CEO at MassCEC and former CEO at Greentown, says in the release. “We are excited to see the second round of this important program, with our Equity Workforce Fund support fostering a partnership between Greentown Labs and Browning the Green Space aimed at accelerating the growth of minority and women business enterprises in Massachusetts.”

ACCEL, which doles out $25,000 in non-dilutive grant funding to each participant, is also supported by Boston-based Barr Foundation and provides programming from VentureWell, a nonprofit with expertise in climatetech.

“Through our partnership with Greentown and VentureWell, we are able to put our respective strengths together to create an ambitious program to bolster founders of color in climatetech and propel innovations that benefit communities most impacted by climate change,” Kerry Bowie, executive director and president of Browning the Green Space, says in the release. “Opening applications for Year 2 of ACCEL is an important milestone in strengthening critical support for traditionally excluded entrepreneurs in our communities.”

Applications for ACCEL are open until January 5, 2024. While entrepreneurs from anywhere can apply, preference will be given to applicants in Greater Boston and Greater Houston, where Greentown’s incubators are located.

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