Video: Professor Robert Eccles on the Politicisation of ESG

10 Nov 2023

FULL HOUSE – The Centre had the honour of hosting Professor Robert Eccles and welcoming over 100 academics, practitioners, and students in attendance for a public lecture on the politicisation of ESG.

A leading thinker on the corporate sustainability and ESG, Professor Eccles shared an in-depth analysis of the substantive issues and political theatre behind the ESG debate and engaged with the audience in a dialogue about the politicisation of ESG, climate change, and GFANZ (Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero). It was also a wonderful privilege to have Dr Gillian Tett, Provost of King’s College, introduce Professor Eccles and share her thoughts on the topic. We are thrilled to be a part of building this diverse and global community, all driven to accelerate climate action across their fields of expertise.

Watch the Lecture:
Professor Robert G Eccles presents at the CCE Lecture on 12 October 2023

Where Does It Stand and Where Is It Going?

Over the past year the somewhat obscure acronym of ESG has become a subject of heated debate in the United States. Mike Pence, one of the first Republican anti-ESG warriors opined that, “ESG is a pernicious strategy, because it allows the left to accomplish what it could never hope to achieve at the ballot box or through competition in the free market. ESG empowers an unelected cabal of bureaucrats, regulators and activist investors to rate companies based on their adherence to left-wing values”. Digging much deeper into how pernicious it really is, North Dakota House Representative Bill Tveit has explained that, “In my opinion, ESG is a worldwide human satanic organized effort. A manmade sabotage of God.”

More substantively, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives has held a number of hearings on ESG. Republican Representatives have sent letters to Climate Action 100+ and CalPERS accusing them of anti-trust violations. SEC Chair Gary Gensler and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen have received a letter regarding the European Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and Corporate sustainability due diligence (CSDDD). Red state attorney generals have fired off a variety of letters to asset managers and insurance companies.

How much of this is political theatre? Are there any substantive issues behind this drama? What does this mean for the Presidential election. How long will the debate about ESG continue? Is there any hope of a bipartisan solution to the issues on the table? How important is this to the rest of the world? Is there any value to this debate at all?

Bob Eccles has been following this debate rather closely and has had some interesting conversations with people across the political spectrum. This event provided a unique opportunity to hear his views as we seek solutions to driving change in the face of political challenges.


Robert Eccles

Robert G. Eccles is a leading authority on corporate purpose, sustainable investing, and integrated reporting. The purpose of companies is to deliver profitable solutions for their customers while cost-effectively minimizing any negative impact they have on the world while doing so. This is the foundation for long-term shareholder value creation. Sustainable investing is the integration of material risk factors into investment decisions and engaging with companies on how to manage these risks to deliver long-term returns. Both companies and investors need relevant and reliable information on these risk factors and so sustainability reporting standards play a central role. Through integrated reporting companies and investors understand how sustainability can contribute to financial performance. Eccles has been working in this domain for over 30 years.

Currently Eccles is a Visiting Professor of Management Practice at the Said Business School, University of Oxford. Eccles has been a Visiting Lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management and was a Berkeley Social Impact Fellow at the Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley. Eccles started his academic career at the Harvard Business School where he received tenure in 1989.

Eccles is the first Chair of KKR’s “Sustainability Expert Advisory Council.” He co-chairs the “ESG Advisory Council” at Novata and is on the “Sustainability Advisory Board” of Persefoni. Eccles was the founding Chairman of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, and was one of the founders of the International Integrated Reporting Council. In 2011, Dr. Eccles was selected as one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior – 2012 for his extensive, positive contribution to building trust in business. In 2013, he was named the first non-accountant Honorary Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), one of only nine since 1999. In 2018 he was named by Barron’s as one of the top 20 influencers in ESG investing and cited for being an “ESG research trailblazer.” Also, in 2018 he received “The CSR Lifetime Achievement Award” at “The 8th International Conference on Sustainability & Responsibility” in Cologne, Germany.

Dr. Eccles received an S.B. in Mathematics and an S.B. in Humanities and Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an A.M. and Ph.D. in Sociology from Harvard University. He currently resides in Concord, MA with his wife Anne Laurin Eccles and their three dogs Rowan, Basil, and Hugo. They have four children (Charlotte, Philippa, Isabelle, and Gordon) and 11 grandchildren (Scout, Russell, Thomas, Thora, Frederick, Dashiell, Philip, Maple, Celeste, Wilde, and Nessa). His main outside activities are weightlifting, which he started at 60 years old, and tire flipping, which he started at 71 years old. He is quite good at the dead lift and achieved his personal goal of 400 pounds with a 410 lift on December 28, 2020—putting him at the 99.8th percentile for his age (70-80) and weight (180-200) group. His PR for 10 consecutive flips of his 550-pound Michelin tire—set on September 15, 2023—is 2’ 53”.