Five roles – Five modules – Five competencies – Five capabilities

Three year programme to embed a continually improving management system for sustainability reporting

Preparing for the changing corporate reporting demands

Company reports will soon need to include both financial and non-financial sustainability information. Practically, this data is not readily available and the experience to report on this data is scarce. In most cases, the development of new systems, business procedures and company capabilities are necessary. This is new territory for most reporting officers, and most are not prepared. Most reporting officers, including governing bodies and their assurance providers, are bewildered by the task ahead.

Barriers to adoption and transformational challenges

There are several barriers that stand in the way of companies effectively reporting sustainability information and connecting this with financial information. Barriers include:

  • Expertise — the expertise to provide the right corporate environment are both scarce and expensive;
  • Post-pandemic pressures — most companies are resource limited and the resources required for corporate reporting will be competing with resources required for business revitalisation;
  • Assurance and compliance overheads — such corporate reports will need to be assurable and, in many cases, comply with regulation and legislation, placing additional burdens on already stretched internal assurance and compliance resources.
  • Capacity — sustainability reporting, unlike traditional compliance reporting, will require a whole-company approach as reported targets are promised and plans scrutinised. This company-wide transformation requires the building of bridges between the business silos and the institutionalisation of integrated thinking.

Over and above these barriers are transformation challenges such as the lack of a standard or best-practices for an effective sustainability reporting system, and reduced timelines. Social demands are such that the time it took financial reporting systems to develop and mature will not be available for sustainability reporting.

A solution through global collaboration

The ESG Exchange brings together international standard setters, regulators, professional bodies, assurance providers, experienced corporates and educators in a global collaboration to assist boards, corporate leaders, and operational managers, from diverse professions and economic sectors.

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The best available sustainability reporting know-how in one place

• Current, curated content
• Trusted templates and tools
• Masterclasses and learning management

Three year implementation programme over five modules to establish effective organization-wide reporting proficiencies:

Operational capabilities Organizational competencies
• Data and technology
• Language and terminology
• Operational processes
• Transition planning and transformation
• Business analytics
• Resiliency
• Finance and assurance workplans
• Integrated thinking and assurance
• Report production
• Performance over the longer term

Online discussion forums; facilitated conversations; and opportunities to engage with a network of local, national, and international peers making this a powerful place to be.

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Recognition of investments in effort, capacity and resources

• Certified time investments (CPD certificates)
• International certification and benchmarking
• Leader boards and level-based rewards

building bridges across organizational silos

Today, training for sustainability and sustainability reporting is mostly aimed at particular organizational roles. For example, the finance function or the board. The ESG Exchange takes an integrated approach – believing that as an organization operates as an integrated system, so too the development of the organization’s sustainability competencies and capabilities needs to reflect this reality. The ESG Exchange considered five key organizational areas / roles: Board / Governing Body; Executive / Top Management; Finance and Assurance; Operations and Stakeholder relations. Participants in the ESG Exchange are able to access all content, no matter their particular role. 

All roles participate in the plenary meetings as well as engage with each other when discussing case studies during the roundtables. However, once a quarter, each role attends their particular Masterclass. These Masterclasses are tailored for those competencies and capabilities which are required of the particular role.

growing from experience with effective support networks

The How-To Playbook provides a sustainability reporting implementation  programme for any size or type of organization no matter the country or region. Each module makes use of a quarterly immersive learning cadence. This cadence keeps participants engaged and actively applying the knowledge and tools provided during the planned engagements. The five modules are designed to ensure that the dependencies between the various activities are considered and activities are completed prior to their use in a following module. For example, the implementation of operational changes is dependent on the adoption and funding of the associated business plan and, in turn, the business plan is dependent on alignment with the organization’s strategy and purpose.

generating value over time with continual improvement

• Data and technology
• Language and terminology
• Operational processes
• Transition planning and transformation
• Business analytics
• Resiliency
• Finance and assurance workplans
• Integrated thinking and assurance
• Report production
• Performance over the longer term

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The ESG Exchange is an initiative of the Good Governance Academy

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5 Module, 3 year Implementation Programme

The ESG Exchange programme takes three years to complete if each of the 5 modules is completed sequentially.


Differing levels of skill and understanding

In recognition that every person brings differing skills, experiences and understanding, the ESG Exchange caters for those wanting to join the programme for one or more specific modules. In such instances, the person is required to pass a competency test to ensure that the person is suitably equipped to participate and engage in the activities.

Module 1

Context established

Module 2

Plan adopted

Module 3

Implementation started

Module 4

Changes applied

Module 5

Improvements agreed

Immersive learning cadence

Each module of the How-To Playbook follows a quarterly learning cadence:


The global session is open to the public. The regional session is a breakout per region to ensure that participants are kept informed of changing regional and national imperatives

Regional Roundtable

Roundtables include all organizational roles. Participants in the roundtables are all from a particular region and discuss relevant case studies in line with the material to be addressed in the programme.


Masterclasses are held per organizational role. They are global events where the same roles across the world learn what they need to implement next and how to implement it. They will be provided with a workbook and expert facilitator to guide them through the knowledge transfer. Participants have two months in which to implement the requirements of the workbook. The implementation will be discussed in the following roundtable with all other roles, against a case study. The case study provides a guiding framework for discussion and learning.

Recognition and Rewards

For individuals

Underwritten by the Good Governance Academy, these certificates are used by most professional bodies around the world as evidence of continual professional development and/or continual professional education

To complete a module, every participant is encouraged to complete a self-assessment on the basis of a set of 40 questions. The answers to these questions are provided for future reference and as a basis for continual learning.

At the end of every module, every participant is encouraged to complete an optional examination which is included in the price of the module.

This examination:

  • Poses a set of 40 questions which must be answered in 60 minutes
  • Is an open book examination with the reference material being the module’s workbooks and interactive knowledge repository content
  • Sample paper is the self-assessment questionnaire and model answer
  • Can be taken anywhere in the world with online proctoring – the proctor will access you as you take the examination and monitor the environment through your computer’s desktop, webcam and microphone

A pass mark of 60% is required to achieve the certification which is awarded by APMG-International

Examination results are used anonymously as input to a public Module Achievement Report ranking individuals against each other, which is used for the ESG Awards ceremonies.

Two-hour online awards ceremonies are held twice a year in June and December. There are several categories and are based on the performance of the individuals as they completed the module and examination (as per the Module Achievement Report).

Recognition and Rewards

For organizations

Where an organization has subscribed to the module, the following are applicable:

The organization’s representatives participating in the module are encouraged to each complete a self-assessment of the impact to the organization. The self-assessments are made up of 40 questions based on the module’s intended outcomes. On completion and submission of the self-assessments, the organization is issued with a certificate of commitment.

An evaluation of the organization’s performance is optional. On completion of the module, a sample of the organization’s stakeholders (other than those participating in the module) are contacted to complete a 40 question questionnaire.  The results are collated and an evaluation report is compiled and provided to the organization indicating areas of concern, improvement or success. These evaluations are used anonymously as input to a public Module Benchmark Report ranking the participating organizations against each other but also against global insights.

Two-hour online awards ceremonies are held twice a year in June and December. There are several categories and are all based on the performance of the organizations as per the Module Benchmark Report.

5 Organizational roles

The ESG Exchange takes an integrated approach to sustainability reporting, building bridges between the various involved organizational roles. 


Representation and participation

Ideally at least one representative from each role should participate in the ESG Exchange. The precise number depends on the organization’s size, type and resourcing. In cases of multi-national organizations, regional representation is highly recommended due to specific regional imperatives which are considered in the ESG Exchange programme.


Steering Committee

It is recommended that the organization’s ESG Exchange participants are involved in, or comprise the organization’ sustainability reporting Steering Committee.


Differing levels of skill and understanding

In recognition that every person brings differing skills, experiences and understanding, the ESG Exchange caters for those wanting to join the programme at specific modules. In such instances, the person is required to pass a competency test to ensure that the person is suitably equipped to participate and engage in the activities.


The organization’s governing body and its members, those with the accountability to govern the organization. An organization’s governing body needs to be equipped to govern the organization’s performance over the longer term and demonstrate accountability to the organization in its oversight of the organization’s sustainability reporting. The governing body is expected to actively direct the organization in its sustainability activities, engaging with the organization’s strategy to do so. The governing body should ensure that the organization defines is value generation objectives and is adequately resourced to meet its performance targets. Importantly the governing body is to determine the manner in which the organization is to face the increasing ESG / sustainability risks presented both by the organization and to the organization.


The organization’s top management or executive levels are those with the highest levels of responsibility for the organization’s sustainability. The organization’s top management are charged with ensuring that the organization performs effectively, stewards its resources appropriately and, collectively, ensure that the organization behaves in an ethical manner. These are important governance outcomes for the organization and one of the sustainability factors to be considered in sustainability reporting. The organization’s top management, with their deep organizational insights assist the governing body to make the necessary sustainability decisions in the best interest of the organization. In turn, the governing body should provide the top management with guidance and direction considering external economic, environmental and social forces. Top management should lead the organization, making the necessary changes, instilling competencies and implementing capabilities to perform in accordance with the guidance and direction provided. Top management should operate as an integrated unit, across various disciplines and business functions to ensure that the organization performs effectively and efficiently in the face of sustainability risk.

Finance and assurance

In the last few years much has been done to broaden the scope of the accounting profession. The accounting profession is ideally positioned, given the deeply entrenched rigor with which the discipline approaches data, to respond to the call to apply the same discipline to sustainability data. The finance and accounting functions are therefore a critical role in sustainability reporting efforts. Importantly the finance function should operate within the parameters provided by the governing body and top management and guide the organization in matters of materiality and reporting. Equally, to publish assurable sustainability report, the organization will need an effective internal control framework and associated assurance of these controls. The finance, audit, risk and compliance roles should work in a systemic, orchestrated manner to ensure that the organization’s sustainability reports disclose material issues and that the organization’s sustainability risks are effectively treated in line with the guidance provided by the governing body.


“Operations” is used broadly to indicate the organization’s operational functions including, importantly, the organization’s sustainability / ESG function, if in place. This also includes supporting functions impacted by the organization’s sustainability targets, such as procurement, technology, data management and data analytics. At the heart of sustainability reporting is sustainability data and importantly the technology that is used to input, manage, manipulate, transform and output this data. Surrounding this are not only the operational processes needed to manage the sustainability data, but also the operational processes which are needed to satisfy the operational needs of the organization. As organizations pivot to address sustainability risks and opportunities, so the operational processes will need to change accordingly.

Stakeholder relations

Perhaps the function most impacted in the age of ESG has been the role of stakeholder relations. Stakeholder relations includes responsibilities which have traditionally been called investor relations, corporate affairs, public relations and employee relations. In respect of sustainability reporting, these roles are needing to develop effective engagement procedures and increased capabilities. Already many organizations have transitioned to include customer engagement programs and procedures, these are now required to be further developed to broaden the scope of stakeholders to be engaged. Engagement programmes need to be developed, supporting technology implemented and procedures embedded to respond to the stakeholder dialogue. Importantly these roles are being called on to communicate the sustainability reports with stakeholders and ensure that they are clear and concise and meet the stakeholder information needs, wanted and expectations.


5 Operational capabilities

Assurable sustainability reporting requires more than an annual task of sourcing and manipulating data. For many organizations the data has never before been needed and is certainly not available through regular feeds to support agile decision making. Operational capabilities required for assurable sustainability reports are found in most organizations, they just need a few tweaks and changes to cater for sustainability information. These capabilities include:

  • Data and technology – source, capture, import, manage and analyse data and records and the necessary supporting technologies
  • Operational processes – monitor and use sustainability information and respond to ESG / sustainability risk
  • Business analytics – data pools and warehousing, management reporting, dashboarding, alerts and control reports
  • Assurance – sustainability risk management, risk assessments, business impact analyses, internal controls, control assurance
  • Report production – strategy and target alignment, compliance considerations, stakeholder information requirements, approvals

5 Organizational competencies

As with every discipline, a specific terminology and language is used to easily refer, for example. a concept, event or object. This is also the case with ESG and sustainability. ESG has often been used to depict sustainability, for example, referring to Environment, Social and Governance factors to mean sustainability is not accurate. Certainly these factors have a bearing on sustainability but they are not the only factors. As with language and terminology, other competencies need to be learnt across the organization so that everyone in the organization is able to readily understand one another and understand the activities which are being performed. The competencies required include:

  • Terminology and language – understand and be able to communicate complex sustainability concepts, understand the requirements of sustainability reporting standards, sources of data and be able to make informed decisions in respect of missing data 
  • Transition and transformation – be able to set targets and track progress across the organization, and transform complex sustainability data into quantifiable results
  • Resilience – quantify and model sustainability risk against verifiable scenarios, integrate with scientific models, and explore new business models by testing against plausible scenarios
  • Integration – establish integrated thinking practices, connect material financial and sustainability information, competently authorise sustainability and integrated reports
  • Longer term performance – review the organizational purpose, balance relevant stakeholder needs, wants and expectations and establish value generation objectives, set improvement targets based on resource requirements and assessed risk

The organizational competencies have been developed on the basis of the Archer ESG Value Stack. Read more about the Value Stack here.

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