by Gregg LaBar

February 10, 2023

What do you do when your work life is consumed by one or more large, complex projects and the vibe around the project is frantic and ambiguous, bordering on chaos?

On February 7, 2023, Dix & Eaton tackled the challenges by hosting a Brainfood webinar titled “Thriving in the Chaos: Best Practices for ESG/Sustainability Report Project Management.” The webinar was moderated by Angela Almasy, a vice president in our Sustainability/ESG Practice, and included three panelists, all highly accomplished ESG/sustainability report project leaders: Renita Dixon of ITW, Natalie Eglinton of Covia Corp., and Kim Vogel of Huntington Bank.

The panelists offered advice on how to reduce the stress level and improve the success of ESG/sustainability reporting projects:

Engagement with internal subject matter experts (SMEs): Vogel said Huntington has 60 to 70 SMEs who hold the insights and data for the company’s annual ESG reporting. Huntington relies on interviews and focus groups to gather the necessary details and has created a portal for SMEs to upload their background information. Covia, meanwhile, has steering teams for each of its 10 sustainability goals, which keeps SMEs engaged year-round.

Data collection and validation: Vogel said Huntington is implementing a process for SMEs to provide backup information for their data when they submit it, rather than asking them for the supporting materials later. ITW, meanwhile, relies on quarterly environmental data collection so that the year-end data collection is more manageable.

Review and approval process: All three panelists noted that the ability to “manage up” is critical for facilitating a reliable and timely review and approval process that typically includes SMEs, Legal, Corporate Communications, Investor Relations, Human Resources, the leadership team and senior executives. Some CEOs read the report cover to cover and want to be involved in wordsmithing and photo selection. Others avoid digging into the details but still review the report before it is considered final. In addition, due to regulatory and litigation concerns, the veracity of legal reviews has ramped up significantly in the last couple of years. Planning for the many levels and types of reviews is critical, and so is flexibility when the best-laid plans need to be adjusted.

Managing deadlines: Every project starts with a production schedule, including a deadline. Some deadlines are set in stone; others can be quite flexible. Knowing what kind of deadline you have, and the necessary milestones along the way to meet that deadline, is an essential project leadership skill. The panelists said they go out of their way to allow enough time for the necessary reviews at each stage, but they are not afraid to communicate the urgency all the way up to the C-suite when key deadlines are at risk.

Toward the end of the webinar, an audience member asked about a “cheat code” for dealing with the stress of these projects. ITW’s Dixon and Huntington’s Vogel said they take time to unplug from the stress – with a walk, workout or extra sleep – no matter how busy they are. Covia’s Eglinton said she is able to renew her energy when “I can take a break, stop and look at what the organization has accomplished during the year – it’s inspiring to see all the good work you’re doing.”

We invite you to check out each company’s latest report at these links:

Contact me if you want more information about the D&E Brainfood series or want to talk about how you too can “thrive in the chaos” of ESG/sustainability reporting season.