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OU Report: How businesses can get ahead with ESG

ESG is discussed in board rooms but lack of skills is holding back action, according to new report by The Open University 

  • While nearly four in five (77%) businesses agree that ESG (environmental, social and governance) factors impact their organisation’s brand or reputation, less than a tenth (8%) have a fully realised ESG strategy
  • Businesses are held back from implementing ESG due to lack of financial resources (28%), missing essential skills (24%) and complexity (23%) 
  • New report from The Open University uncovers that over four fifths (80%) of businesses have skills gaps in each of the three ESG pillars

Less than a tenth 8%) of businesses have a fully realised environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy, despite nearly four in five organisations accepting that ESG factors impact their brand or reputation - a new report by The Open University has found. Published today, it explores business leaders’ attitudes and knowledge of ESG and barriers to adopting ESG, such as existing skills gaps within their organisations. 

Surveying over 500 UK businesses, the report highlights that this disconnect between awareness and action is due to blockers such as a lack of financial resources (28%), missing essential skills (24%), and complexity (23%). 

The report sheds light on the ESG skills gap as more than four-fifths (80%) of businesses who engage in ESG accept they lack the right skills in each of the three ESG pillars. The skills gap has been exacerbated by inflation and rising business costs which has put pressure on learning and development budgets. UK business leaders agree that ESG is a priority, but they are struggling to put training plans in place to equip employees with the skills required to meet ESG.

Among those who experience skills gaps, the top five skills gaps are in:

  • Waste reduction (27%)
  • Data analysis (25%)
  • Energy tracking / usage (24%)
  • Training & development (24%)
  • Carbon accounting (23%)

In light of these challenges, the report aims to aid businesses on their ESG journeys and details how organisations can bridge the existing skills gap. The report, which includes insights and advice from ESG experts, encourages business leaders to educate themselves and their staff, measure their goals and use their voice to speak up in order to successfully implement ESG strategies within their businesses.

Dr Victoria Hands, Director of Sustainability at The Open University commented:

“Businesses now understand more than ever, that ESG performance is critical not only for the reputation of a modern organisation, but also for success and profitability. These topics are now central to driving future success and investment to transform our society.

“This report reveals that ESG conversations are happening frequently in all sizes of businesses, which is really encouraging. Whilst conversations are taking place, it’s crucial that strategies are put in place to help employers develop ESG-related skills and ultimately work towards future-proofing businesses, their workforces and the communities they serve.

“In upskilling for ESG, we have the opportunity to ensure that such a transition is equitable and inclusive of the diversity of people in our society. To help work towards sustainable goals, employers should explore developing long-term strategies through education, data measurement and the confidence to use a business’s platform to speak up.” 

Phil Kenmore, Director, Corporate Development and Partnerships at The Open University added: 

“The report reveals that the lack of skills is the second biggest blocker for adapting ESG but the right employee training can be a solution to this gap. The survey shows that employers know how crucial ESG is for the future success of their businesses and a clear strategy for learning and development can be the right tool to help businesses get ahead with ESG and prepare for new roles that will emerge. 

“It’s important that employers are aware of their options and invest in appropriate training programmes through partnering with an organisation such as the OU, to help them keep on track with achieving ESG objectives. Businesses can choose from a number of different approaches including microcredentials, continuing professional development courses, degree apprenticeships, undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications, and free learning from our OpenLearn platform.”

To find out more and download the report ‘Educate, Measure, Speak up: How businesses can get ahead with ESG’ visit:

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