Janette O’Neill: Why ESG Training is Essential for Every Business

Think 2022 panellists

Companies are way past considering ESG as nice to have: it’s essential. “We’ve gone from ESG being a specialist area that a few people need to know about, to almost every single person in the organisation needing to have some kind of ESG skills,” Janette O’Neill, chief sustainability officer for PwC Australia, told the crowd at Qantas magazine’s Think. event, held in association with LSH Auto Australia. “It’s a massive topic we all need to understand and we’ve got to invest into training people.”

There’s been a huge shift. “We’ve gone from, ‘We need to be carbon-neutral’ and ‘We need to reduce our operational footprint’, to a much better understanding of the financial risk and the fiduciary duties related to climate,” says O’Neill.

She is the first chief sustainability officer at PwC, and has responsibility for the firm’s ESG agenda, including as a partner with the financial services team advising clients on their strategies.

O’Neill has more than 25 years of experience in sustainability, strategy, people and culture, including in her previous role at insurance giant QBE. “Some companies are playing catch-up now in terms of broader corporate strategy and the need to have ESG embedded in how we manage performance. There’s real momentum.”

Janette O’Neill, Chief Sustainability Officer for PwC Australia

O’Neill believes leadership teams should regard reporting requirements around ESG as an opportunity rather than a burden. “There’s a perception that reporting is boring and we just have to get through it,” she says.

“Actually, reporting can be really powerful in forcing you to think about the actions you’re taking to meet the ambition. When you do public reporting, you are accountable to explaining the journey, not just the ambition.

“With ESG, there is that mitigation focus – and we’ve got to manage risk, we’ve got to reduce our footprint – there’s also huge opportunity by engaging with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and looking deeper.

“How do I make a difference? Where’s the growth opportunity? How can I think about renewables? What are different solutions to help my customers and help our communities to grow? That shared value concept is incredibly powerful and reporting can help bring it into focus.”

Simply applying the same high standards to ESG reporting as for financials will be a huge step forward. “We all adhere to financial standards in order to ensure good governance but we haven’t yet reached that level of rigour for ESG,” says O’Neill.

“As ESG reporting evolves and becomes more sophisticated, it’s imperative that organisations go above and beyond to make sure we know where the information is coming from and what are its limitations.”

Janette O’Neill and panellists

She also thinks education for leaders is better when it runs deep and that board education should go beyond listening to a guest speaker for 15 minutes at a monthly meeting.

“Experiential learning is really powerful,” says O’Neill. “I mean getting out of the office and really participating in something – whether it’s going to the annual Garma Festival in Arnhem Land or going through a specific ESG training program. It opens doors for people. I’ve seen real change when board members do this. They learn enough to realise they need to know more and they become very curious and it opens up all sorts of bigger conversations.”

Think 2022 panellists

Think. is a thought-leadership event and content series, presented by Qantas magazine and in association with LSH Auto Australia – the country’s leading Mercedes-Benz dealer group. Find out more about LSH Auto Australia.

SEE ALSO: David Cooke on How ESG Efforts Build Commercial Success

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