CEOs aren’t abandoning their ESG plans—but they are changing the language they use to defend them

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who wants to ban ESG investing in his state.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who wants to ban ESG investing in his state.
Paul Hennessy—SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

Good morning.

The anti-ESG campaign is gaining steam in the U.S. and will continue to do so as the 2024 presidential election approaches. And it’s not just presidential politics driving it. The American Legislative Exchange Council has been pushing a bill on state legislatures to combat ESG investors, and some 17 states have either considered or enacted a version of it. Anti-ESG groups are also pushing more shareholder initiatives this year.

But here’s the thing: I still can’t find a big company that is backing off its ESG plans. Earlier this week, I moderated a virtual call among members of the Fortune Impact Initiative, which included around 50 top executives at large companies who are responsible for ESG. Not one of them reported changing their ESG-related plans. 

So what are they doing? Getting better at defining and explaining their policies, both inside and outside the company. And where necessary, they are changing the language they use to defend them.

I can’t quote attendees at the off-the-record session. But I can report a few clear takeaways. Some of the participants believe that ESG rankings and ratings have taken the ESG effort in the wrong direction, making it a kind of check-the-box, scorecard exercise. They argue instead that companies should focus on policies that are closely tied to their own business and clearly designed to help their business sustain itself in the future. Taking care of the communities you operate in helps ensure those communities will allow you to operate in the future. Recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce is essential to acquiring the best talent in a labor-constrained world. And focusing on how your company can meaningfully contribute to the climate transition is a way to create value in a business world that is clearly committed to that transition. In short, companies need to do a better job making it clear this is not about politics; it’s about good, long-term business.

The Fortune Impact Initiative is sponsored by Everfi, a platform for workplace training, and is designed to be a forum where executives can trade knowledge and best practices in the rapidly evolving field of ESG. You can find more information and apply for membership here (or just send me a note.) Separately, take time this morning to read about Amazon CEO Andy Jassy’s pep talk to dispirited employees, here. “This is not work that’s going to take one or two months,” he said. “We’re going to make progress, meaningful progress every month. But this will take many months, and I’m quite confident that we will be misunderstood and we will be underrated.”

More news below.

Alan Murray


World Bank

Al Gore will be pleased: World Bank president David Malpass is to step down from his post early. Malpass has been heavily criticized for his reticence in recognizing human-caused climate change, and the fact that the World Bank continues to give billions in funding to fossil-fuel projects. Malpass will vacate the post by the end of June; he would otherwise have continued nearly a year longer. Financial Times

Tencent metaverse

China’s Tencent, which less than a year ago set up an “extended reality” unit—think metaverse, virtual reality, augmented reality and so on—says it’s already making “personnel adjustments” to the division. A Chinese tech site reported that over 300 staffers have been told to find other opportunities, as the unit was being disbanded. Tencent denies the disbanding bit, but says its hardware plans have changed. (Bonus read: the FT’s Jemima Kelly on how Big Tech is rapidly cooling on the metaverse concept.) Reuters

WallStreetBets suit

The creator of the WallStreetBets meme-stock community, Jaime Rogozinski, is suing Reddit for kicking him out of his role as moderator of the popular subreddit back in 2020. Reddit suspended his account on the basis that he was trying to enrich himself; a “person close to Reddit” says he was then banned from the forum outright by its remaining moderators. Rogozinski also claims Reddit infringed on his right to trademark the WallStreetBets brand, by opposing his registration attempt. Wall Street Journal


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This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer. 

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