Why chief ESG officer at Verizon wants to keep sustainability reports laser-focused on key metrics
- Beth Sasfai was appointed Verizon's first chief
ESGofficer in 2019 and boasts an 18-year career with the telecommunications leader.
- Verizon's 2021 ESG report will be published in April 2022 and includes an ESG impact analysis focused on key issues that drive the company's business strategy and corporate purpose.
At the New York City-based Verizon, whose 130,000 employees are spread around the globe, ESG reporting has evolved dramatically over the past few years.
According to Beth Sasfai, who was appointed the telecommunication leader's first ESG officer in 2019 after doing governance-focused work with the board of directors, the leadership team decided to "build out a centralized ESG function to increase visibility across the company into our public commitments and how we were tracking and reporting on progress."
Previously, reporting around ESG issues was styled as a corporate response report and owned by the marketing team, she explained. But the push towards investor-grade ESG reporting precipitated moving the report to Sasfai's team, who immediately realized that they had to prioritize their ESG reporting efforts. "You can't possibly report on everything," she said.
As a result, Sasfai and her team spent time with their top 20-25 investors to understand what they were looking for. "We got very granular about what they thought was useful information, everything from where they would like a report to live on our site, what kind of formatting is useful, what they think about us doing a separate
But, she adds, investors often ask for a lot of information and don't really know how to use it. "One of the things you'll see in our upcoming report, to be published in April, is an ESG impact analysis where we're focusing on our key issues that drive our business strategy and our corporate purpose," she said.
One example is Verizon's strategy to "create networks that move the world forward." The question, said Sasfai, is "What does that necessarily mean from an ESG perspective? One thing is you're thinking about our networks, so you're thinking about resilience and reliability. But you're thinking about resilience in terms of climate, like how does our network perform in terms of climate related events and how do we think about weather and hardening our network?"
In 2020, Verizon's ESG report highlighted the company's goals of net zero emissions by 2035 and planting 20 million trees worldwide by 2030, as well as successes including 100% pay equity. Overall, for 2021 Safsai's team focused on building out a qualitative narrative on key areas such as cybersecurity, data, privacy, climate and human goals including talent management and employee engagement. "We didn't incorporate a ton of new metrics this year, given the swirl right now with the SEC and the proposed rulemaking," she pointed out.
The company also developed a centralized ESG hub on its investor relations website, which includes all reporting on various ESG topics. "That was a piece of feedback we got from investors – that they would like things in one place," Sasfai said.
Prioritizing other stakeholder groups, such as customers and employees, was another big focus in putting together Verizon's upcoming 2021 ESG report. "ESG reports can be very dense and data-heavy and not very accessible for some of our other stakeholders," she said. "So we've tried to come up with ways to repurpose a lot of what we're doing, such as with social cards that pull out just one or two key facts about a key area with a visual that will blast out across various channels to try to connect employees to some of our reporting."
Most importantly, Sasfai said that she continues to push for prioritization going forward. "There is a view that what gets measured, gets managed, but I don't think that that's true all the time," she said. "There are frameworks that cover every issue under the sun and they're all important issues, but we need to make sure that companies are laser-focused on the issues that hit their bottom line and that go to their
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