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Emerging ESG Trends Forward-Thinking Small Business Owners Need to Watch There are five key components that entrepreneurs have to get right to navigate their environmental, social and governance transformation successfully. Find out where your focus should be.

By Nicholas Leighton Edited by Jessica Thomas

Key Takeaways

  • How to navigate ESG frameworks in a changing regulatory environment.
  • Understanding the political dichotomy of ESG.
  • Preparing for increased public scrutiny.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In a world of ever-evolving business practices, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) principles have emerged as key factors shaping the strategies of companies worldwide. For entrepreneurs and small business owners, understanding and harnessing these trends is not just a matter of embracing sustainability, but it can impact your ability to attract new clients, suppliers, and investors.

Over the last few years, some ESG principles have been deeply scrutinized or have shifted due to changes in the business, political, and regulatory landscape. Entrepreneurs and small business owners need to understand the ESG trends that are happening in 2023 to strategize how to navigate these trends for success.

Related: Have You Updated Your Vision Statement With Sustainability Goals? You Should, But Choose Your Words Carefully.

1. Navigating ESG frameworks in a changing regulatory environment

As 2023 unfolds, the business landscape is witnessing a transformation driven by heightened regulatory oversight of ESG practices. Governments around the globe are introducing intricate ESG-related legal obligations that demand businesses embrace ESG frameworks and disclosures. Although this pressure is happening primarily to large enterprises, these requirements may trickle down to smaller companies that provide services and products to these conglomerates.

Although this might sound daunting, small businesses should start to proactively demonstrate that they are committed to ethical and sustainable practices. For example, a small clothing brand that values sustainable sourcing and ethical labor practices won't need to adjust aggressively to regulatory mandates on transparency in supply chains and sustainable production as a company that is behind the pack in implementing ESG practices. By staying informed about these regulatory changes and proactively adopting relevant ESG practices, your small business can not only stay compliant but also gain a competitive edge.

Related: Noticed a Growing Disconnect Between Employees and Employers? Here's Why.

2. Navigating the political dichotomy of ESG

The realm of ESG is not immune to political debates that can impact small businesses. Although some argue that ESG principles create transparency and drive ethical business practices, others believe they serve as a mask for pushing specific political or social agendas.

For small business owners, the key is to focus on authenticity and alignment with your business values. As debates swirl, your business can emphasize the commitment to the well-being of its community, which directly aligns with its ESG principles. By staying true to your values and fostering a transparent connection with your customers, you can weather political shifts while maintaining consumer trust.

3. Adapting to rapidly evolving technology and data

Technology is rapidly advancing and will have major impacts on how businesses approach ESG. Data, artificial intelligence and automation are reaching unprecedented capabilities. Tools like AI create many concerns around the ethical use of these systems and may require additional governance to be put in place to protect the company and customers from the consequences and misuse that can come with implementing new technologies.

In addition, technology is expected to impact the existing workforce. Small businesses may need to focus on transitioning their team to align with these changes. For example, upskilling employees to leverage new technologies and encouraging them to take on different roles can enhance both social responsibility and business productivity. By combining innovation with ethical considerations, your small business showcases that ESG is important to your core values as you help your team flourish in the digital age.

Related: Are You an Ethical Entrepreneur? Here's How Business Leaders Can Embrace Social and Environmental Responsibilities

4. Increased public scrutiny

In today's interconnected world, claims and allegations related to ESG practices are becoming more common. Unethical companies risk a barrage of public scrutiny across news networks and social media platforms. This public awareness is expected to increase in the future, and small business owners must be prepared for increased visibility and demand for transparency.

More information is becoming available, which allows consumers to access data like never before. For example, a cleaning product company that claims to be eco-friendly might be required to provide more transparency into its supply chain and production methods so that consumers can validate these claims. By clearly communicating your sustainable practices and openly sharing data and third-party certifications, your small business can build trust with consumers and help them recognize that you are an ethical and socially conscious business.

5. Safeguarding your supply chain

The integrity of a company's supply chain has never been more crucial. Governments, investors and clients are increasingly requiring businesses to adhere to ESG-related criteria when choosing suppliers. These factors include avoiding suppliers who have unsustainable shipping methods, environmentally destructive manufacturing processes and human rights issues. As a small business owner, focusing on supply chain ethics and sustainability can not only align with your ESG goals and ensure the resilience of your operations, but it can also attract new clients and investors to grow your business.

Related: An Entrepreneur's Guide to Achieving a Net-Zero Business

Embracing ESG in a transformative landscape

For small business owners, ESG is not just a trend — it's a strategic compass that guides you toward sustainability, responsibility and success. By weaving these principles into the very core of your business, you not only contribute to a better world but also secure a brighter future for your business. Knowing where to start can feel overwhelming. There are numerous ways to incorporate ESG principles into your business. It might be necessary to have a professional coach guide you through setting up or refining your ESG goals and initiatives. They can also hold you accountable for achieving your ESG objectives. Every step, no matter how small, will help your business make progress toward a brighter future.

Nicholas Leighton

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Best-selling author, speaker & business owner executive coach

Nick Leighton believes that business owners should make more money and have more free time. He does this through his best-selling book "Exactly Where You Want to Be – A Business Owner’s Guide to Passion, Profit and Happiness," speaking and coaching. #ChampagneMoment.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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