Impact Investing | August 21, 2023

Developing a pro-ESG narrative around transparency, long-term returns and political freedom 

Cortney Stapleton

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Guest Author

Cortney Stapleton

As political and corporate actors continue to discredit the ESG movement in national publications and on broadcast television, it is more important than ever to course-correct the narrative around the outcomes of ESG risk management frameworks.

Some of the most widely read and respected publications in the world have published the work of ESG critics like Vivek Ramaswamy, Elon Musk and Mike Pence—all of whom use their considerable social presence to amplify opinions. They and others claim ESG regulation facilitates greenwashing, investments yield concessionary returns and funds are “woke capitalism” in action. 

Research and experience has shown that ESG disclosure regulations actually promote transparency and mitigate greenwashing, ESG investments generate more sustainable returns in the long term and ESG funds should be subject to free market forces not political pressure. 

So why aren’t those facts being repeated in the press? In part, it has to do with the undeniable flashiness and self-conviction of anti-ESG spokespeople who boast millions of Twitter followers and appeal to conservative Americans who feel slighted by the current administration. 

But it also has to do with how relatively little time ESG champions have spent codifying, aligning and pushing out their beliefs.

Key statements

A well-thought-out communications strategy is one of the most effective ways to reshape the narrative around ESG. Opinion articles, social media engagement, press releases, webinars and other communication tools with prescriptive messaging can help consumers as well as corporations think about politicized topics like ESG in a more accurate light. In doing so, you give people new or improved language to use, then reinforce it through a steady drumbeat of media.

The Bliss Group’s research into the messages ESG critics have been putting their weight behind suggests that investors should be using these key statements to counter the attack:


Implementing additional ESG regulations will hurt local economies. 

ESG investing can help insulate national and global economies from risk while generating more sustainable returns in the long term.

The current methodology and standards used to measure ESG practices are inconsistent and produce unreliable data.

ESG measurement and disclosure standards will help verify that companies and funds are good stewards of the communities and natural resources they impact and promote a healthier free market for all.

ESG measurement and regulation facilitates greenwashing and therefore is a “scam.”

It will empower investors to make more informed decisions and hold companies accountable for their impact on the world around them.  

ESG investments yield concessionary returns.

Many investors believe that incorporating ESG considerations is less risky than ignoring ESG considerations.

ESG funds are “woke capitalism” in action, working to advance the liberal agenda.

ESG funds are growing in popularity because most Americans with money in the stock market want companies to be good corporate citizens. In fact, ESG screening as an investment strategy has bipartisan support among voters.

Consistency is key to developing effective communication materials. It’s well worth investing the time to lay out your topline messages, which every article or social post or statement you externalize should ladder back up to. These messages and the spokespeople who share them must maintain a tempered tone and lead with empathy to reach beyond the echo chamber. External communications need to be careful not to feed into the anti-ESG machine while internal communications need to be crystal clear, so everyone can feel comfortable getting on board. 

To push back on anti-ESG rhetoric, we need to discredit its detractors and convey how the approach can uplift people and the planet. This means identifying opportunities for proactive messaging around milestones and developing a rapid response plan with key talking points for pre-selected spokespeople to leverage.

Public faces

Responses to the ESG backlash need to offer clarity in simple and relatable terms without inflationary or dismissive language. Communications should be tailored to audience needs, keeping in mind that not everyone has the same understanding of what ESG means or how ESG regulations stand to impact them. The tone and language of these communications need to be chosen carefully. Framing matters, so avoid using emotionally charged arguments or phrasing that alienates your audience.

Think about what kind of platforms are at your disposal. Can you share pro-ESG articles on LinkedIn more frequently? Can you pen an op-ed for a local or even national publication? Can you draft and share blog posts on your corporate website? Can you invest in paid advertising to extend the message further? Once your messaging is nailed down, it’s a matter of finding the right avenues to share it. Social media has made it a lot easier to do that even if you don’t have a big budget.

Who stands at the forefront of these communications is almost as important as the content they share. As individuals like Musk and Pence have shown, a differentiated opinion delivered with passion and confidence is key. 

Which begs the question of who the face of the pro-ESG movement should be? Celebrities like Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio who are widely liked but have a demonstrated interest in environmental and social issues could be our best bet for garnering widespread support from the general public – especially since they are largely unassociated with politics.

Efforts to position ESG risk assessment as a venue for political infighting has distorted what we know to be true about ESG in the public’s eye. There are powerful tools at our disposal to fight back. Words matter and strategic communications matter even more for advancing the ESG cause.

Cortney Stapleton is CEO of The Bliss Group and a founding member of Exponent Women, a network of senior women dealmakers.