Social sustainability involves actively working to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the organization, promoting ethical behavior, and assuming social responsibility in all operations. Many companies are making the mistake of thinking short-term by divesting efforts in these areas with the aim that it will save them costs and ensure revenue gains in a challenging market.

However, this is short-sighted. Cutting investment into these efforts will impact your short-term and your long-term growth, as the S (Social) in ESG, plays a key part of your ‘people’ strategy – the heartbeat of your organization. 

As organizations look to ensure long-term growth and embark on this journey, it is crucial to highlight key strategic outputs.

Important ESG factors

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)

DEI isn't just a moral compass; it's an engine of innovation, enhanced decision-making, and problem-solving. Organizations should set precise DEI goals, adopt targeted recruitment strategies, and cultivate an inclusive work environment that extends a welcome to employees across different sexual orientations, socioeconomic statuses, mental abilities, religions, ages, languages, physical abilities, and disabilities, not just gender identity. Employee resource groups should further amplify the commitment to diversity and provide invaluable networking opportunities.

Fair labor practices

Organizations should be resolute in upholding policies that ensure fair wages, benefits, and safe working conditions. Regular wage assessments and safety training are integral components of the commitment to the well-being of the workforce and the dedication to human rights and ethical business practices.

Employee well-being

Prioritizing the well-being of employees translates into higher job satisfaction, reduced turnover, and heightened productivity. Holistic employee wellness programs encompass physical and mental health support, parental and family assistance, and stress reduction initiatives.

Community investment and volunteerism

Organizations should promise to invest in local communities which fosters goodwill and strengthens stakeholder relationships. Collaborating with local non-profits and organizations ensures that the values align with societal expectations and reinforces firms’ commitment to social responsibility.

Supply chain responsibility

Vigilance in ensuring a responsible and ethical supply chain should be a key focus. Collaborating with suppliers to enforce codes of conduct and providing training for ESG improvement minimizes risks associated with violations and contributes to the overall sustainability.

Combatting forced labor and human trafficking

Unwavering commitment to combating forced labor and human trafficking extends from the operations to supply chains is a critical area. Stringent policies and audit processes will ensure that the partners uphold the highest ethical standards, mitigating reputational and legal risks.

Stakeholder engagement

Engaging with stakeholders and actively soliciting feedback equips organizations to better understand the social impact and proactively address concerns. Enabling a multi-faceted approach, including surveys, advisory boards, and social media engagement, fosters trust and transparency.

Support for education and skill development

Investing in education and skill development programs empowers employees and communities, driving sustainable growth and demonstrating profound commitment to social responsibility.

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Brands that are getting ESG strategy right

Tony's Chocolonely

Tony's Chocolonely, chocolate manufacturer, prioritizes direct trade with cocoa farmers and cooperatives, ensuring transparency in the origins and conditions of their cocoa beans through their Beantracker system. This approach allows the company to identify and address social and environmental issues within their supply chain.

Tony's Chocolonely are committed to doing everything possible to prevent slavery and child labor, adopting a realistic stance towards these complex issues. To reinforce its long-term commitment to sustainability, Tony's Chocolonely has introduced a "golden share" governance structure, empowering independent "mission guardians" with the authority to veto any changes that could undermine its ethical sourcing principles. 

These guardians, tasked with safeguarding the company's mission to eliminate inequality and exploitation in the chocolate industry, have various tools at their disposal, including the publication of concerns in the company's annual report or legal avenues, to hold Tony's leadership accountable. This innovative mechanism allows stakeholders, including employees, cocoa farmers, business partners, and consumers, to anonymously raise concerns, ensuring that the company's ethical commitments remain intact.


Another brand getting it right is IBM. IBM has been at the forefront of integrating Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles into its operations, demonstrating a longstanding commitment to sustainability that dates back decades. Notably, the company launched the Smarter Planet initiative nearly 16 years ago, underlining its early engagement with ESG concerns and its Smarter Planet ethos.

With a history of environmental and social stewardship extending over 50 years, highlighted by the adoption of its first corporate policy on environmental affairs in 1971, IBM has consistently set benchmarks in corporate responsibility. The company's mission extends beyond business success to making a lasting, positive impact on ethics, the environment, the people, and communities where it operates.

In its ongoing evolution, IBM has introduced IBM Impact, a comprehensive ESG framework designed to foster "a more sustainable, equitable, and secure future." This initiative underscores IBM's dual focus on driving innovation and establishing policies that prioritize ethics, trust, transparency, and accountability, particularly in environmental matters. IBM is committed to conservation efforts, pollution reduction, and mitigating climate-related risks.

A hallmark of the company's approach is its continuous update of policies and goals and highlights its dedication to transparency and accountability where many organizations are being showcased for doing good and later exposed for greenwashing. Whereas IBM's efforts to regularly set, measure, and report on its ESG goals underscore this commitment, showcasing a proactive approach to ESG.

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Ethical marketing and advertising

Recognizing the pivotal role of the "S" in ESG, will help organizations commitment toward a sustainable future by implementing ethical practices that will enhance social performance and enrich the broader ESG landscape.

Ethical marketing and advertising plays a critical role in ensuring trust with customers. 

Transparency and trust are the cornerstones of ethical marketing and advertising practices. Firms should staunchly prohibit deceptive tactics and uphold internal guidelines to ensure ethical standards are met, establishing a reputation founded on integrity.


Q: What are the three pillars of ESG?

A: The three pillars of ESG refer to Environmental, Social, and Governance factors that organizations must consider and integrate into their operations to achieve long-term sustainability and make a positive impact.

The Environmental pillar focuses on an organization's environmental footprint, including efforts to mitigate climate change, conserve natural resources, reduce pollution, and manage environmental risks throughout the value chain.

The Social pillar, which is the primary focus of this article, encompasses an organization's commitments and actions related to its workforce, communities, and society at large.

Key Social factors include diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), fair labor practices, employee well-being, community investment, supply chain responsibility, combating forced labor and human trafficking, stakeholder engagement, and support for education and skill development.

The Governance pillar pertains to an organization's leadership, ethical conduct, accountability, and decision-making processes. It encompasses aspects such as board composition, executive compensation, shareholder rights, anti-corruption policies, and overall transparency and disclosure practices.

By holistically addressing all three pillars of ESG, organizations can drive sustainable growth, strengthen stakeholder relationships, mitigate risks, and contribute to a more equitable and responsible future for all.

Q: What is the goal of ESG?

A: The overarching goal of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) is to drive long-term sustainable growth by integrating responsible and ethical practices across all aspects of an organization's operations and decision-making processes.

ESG initiatives aim to mitigate risks, strengthen stakeholder relationships, and create value for the organization, society, and the environment. By holistically addressing Environmental, Social, and Governance factors, organizations can navigate the evolving landscape of societal expectations and market dynamics.

The Environmental pillar focuses on minimizing the organization's ecological footprint and contributing to environmental conservation efforts. The Social pillar emphasizes ethical and inclusive employment practices, community engagement, and upholding human rights across the value chain. The Governance pillar underscores accountability, transparency, and ethical leadership.

Ultimately, the goal of ESG is to future-proof organizations by fostering a corporate ethos that prioritizes responsible and sustainable growth while making a positive impact on the world around us. This approach not only enhances an organization's reputation and stakeholder trust but also drives innovation, attracts top talent, and cultivates long-term success.

Q: What are the ESG factors in marketing?

A: While ESG encompasses Environmental, Social, and Governance factors across an organization's operations, the article specifically highlights ethical marketing and advertising practices as a key ESG factor for the marketing function.

Ethical marketing and advertising play a pivotal role in ensuring trust with customers and stakeholders. Transparency and integrity are the cornerstones of an ethical marketing approach. Organizations must staunchly prohibit deceptive tactics and uphold rigorous internal guidelines to meet the highest ethical standards. This commitment to ethical practices is crucial for establishing a reputation built on trust and accountability.

Recognizing the vital importance of the "S" (Social) pillar in ESG will help organizations reinforce their commitment to a sustainable future. Implementing ethical marketing strategies enhances social performance and enriches the broader ESG landscape.

By aligning marketing efforts with ESG principles, particularly the Social factors, organizations can demonstrate their dedication to ethical conduct, responsible business practices, and making a positive societal impact. This fosters credibility, strengthens brand reputation, and cultivates long-term, value-driven relationships with customers and stakeholders.

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