Natural science knowledge and critical approach promise to become the essential competencies of managers responsible for the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) area in companies. This opinion was expressed by Olga Dergunova, Deputy President-Chairman of the Management Board of VTB Bank, Director of the Graduate School of Management of St. Petersburg University (GSOM SPbU) during the discussion "Where and how to study ESG in Russia and the world?" at the Congress of Responsible Business ESG–(R)Evolution, organized by the RBC.
Opening the event, its moderator, Elena Dubovitskaya, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development of the Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO, presented a study based on studying the profiles of Linkedin users positioned on the network as ESG specialists. Among the conclusions drawn from its results, the attention of the event participants was attracted by the list of skills and functions required for the chief sustainable officer. These include strategic thinking, the ability to navigate a changing process, taking into account the needs of stakeholders, participation in building a corporate ESG culture, etc.
"Among the listed competencies, perhaps critical thinking is lacking. Today, society has many very different points of view on the problem of sustainable development. No one knows which tools and ways to solve the problem are the right ones. In these conditions, the ability to critically evaluate multidirectional signals is mandatory. Another fundamentally important area is natural science knowledge. You will have to be educated in chemistry, physics and biology; otherwise, it will be difficult to formulate environmental indicators and figure out how to apply them. After the natural science vocabulary becomes clear to everyone, we will find tools that will allow us to parameterize our discussion and move it into the plane of economic feasibility for companies," Olga Dergunova emphasized.
The topic of ESG, according to Olga Dergunova, should interpenetrate all academic disciplines, and the most acceptable scheme of its teaching is the partner model, where the teacher discusses the topic with students equally. "I would invite to the audience, first of all, the heads of raw materials companies who were the first to face a reassessment of their business models through ESG, secondly, representatives of state regulators in this area, thirdly, current students and, finally, the generation of those who were born after 2010. They have a completely different understanding of sustainable development, and the sooner we hear them, the better," Olga Dergunova said.
The Director of Sustainable Development of RUSAL Irina Bakhtina, in turn, spoke about the mandatory psycho-emotional condition for the head of the direction of sustainable development. Such a manager needs not only to combine a large number of different competencies but also to have real courage, the ability to overcome the resistance of often conservative-minded teams to achieve a fundamental transformation of the company, moving away from the paradigm in which the interests of shareholders prevailed over the interests of other stakeholders.
Andre Kalmon, a professor at the Scheller Business College of the Jordia University of Technology (USA), emphasized several areas of study for ESG specialists in business schools, highlighting the ability to provide financing and work with investors in the line of sustainable development needs as an independent competence. The main thing is that universities, first of all, should foster appropriate modern thinking, not only in future managers but also in specialists in other fields.
Finally, Anton Ovchinnikov, a professor at the Smith School of Business in Kingston (Canada), a visiting professor at INSEAD in SKOLKOVO, recalled the primary paradigm of ESG development: society should understand that real problems are brought to it by events and trends in the field of ecology, but it is impossible to solve them without restoring order in social issues. As for education: the expert firmly believes that today it is necessary to teach not what to think but what to think about. And also, remember that innovative ideas often come from completely unexpected areas.