Rethinking Our Approach:
The New Way to Analyse ESG Data and Reports

24 OCT 2023 / ESG Matters


Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) data has become a cornerstone for informed investment decisions in our modern economy. As industries evolve and our globalised world becomes increasingly interconnected, the sheer volume and complexity of ESG data available to us is staggering. However, the mere abundance of data doesn't guarantee actionable insights or meaningful interpretations. Instead, it presents a profound challenge: Are we truly maximising the potential of this information with our current analytical methods?

As investors and stakeholders demand more transparency and accountability, the imperative isn't just to gather ESG data but to analyse it in ways that reveal deeper insights, predict future trends, and guide sustainable decision-making. Current methodologies often rely on prevailing or somewhat "standardised" metrics, which, while useful, might not capture the full spectrum of ESG implications. There's a risk of over-simplifying complex scenarios or overlooking the nuances that could significantly impact an investment's long-term value or an organisation's reputation. In essence, the evolving nature of global challenges — from climate change to social justice issues — demands an evolution in our analytical approach.

The question that looms is not just about the quantity and quality of data we analyse but the approach of our analysis. Are we adapting swiftly enough to the changing contours of ESG considerations? Are our tools and methodologies agile enough to decipher the intricate web of interdependencies that ESG data often represents? And perhaps most critically, are we able to translate our findings into strategic actions that align with the sustainable aspirations of modern businesses and the expectations of an informed public? Can we translate our findings into strategic actions that meet the sustainability goals of modern businesses and informed public expectations?
This article embarks on a journey to explore these questions, introducing innovative techniques that promise a more comprehensive understanding of ESG data and reports.

The Essence of Problem Formulation in ESG Analysis

At the heart of the matter is the act of deeply understanding challenges, a process that demands we diagnose, decompose, reframe, and set appropriate boundaries for our analysis. When applied to ESG, this approach can yield unparalleled insights into environmental, social, and governance nuances.

  • Problem Diagnosis: This is about getting to the heart of the matter. Rather than skimming the surface of an ESG issue, this step demands a thorough exploration of its underlying roots.
  • Problem Decomposition: ESG challenges are multi-layered. Decomposition is the act of segmenting them into smaller, more digestible pieces, each worthy of its own detailed scrutiny.
  • Problem Reframing: By changing the lens through which we view ESG issues, reframing allows us to explore them from various perspectives, broadening our understanding and potential solutions.
  • Constraint Design: This involves defining the limits of our analysis, ensuring that we focus on the most relevant and impactful aspects of ESG data.

Practical Application: Problem Formulation Techniques in ESG Analysis

The theory of problem formulation can seem abstract until it's put into practice. Here's how investors and analysts can employ these techniques when analysing ESG data and reports:

  • Applying Problem Diagnosis to ESG Issues: For instance, when analysing a company's carbon footprint, it's not enough to just look at raw emissions data. We must also consider why emissions are at their current levels. Are there inefficiencies in the production process? Is the company relying on outdated technologies? Or is there a lack of commitment to sustainability at the executive level? By diagnosing the root causes, investors can make more informed judgments about a company's long-term ESG risks and potential.
  • Decomposing ESG Reports for Deeper Insights: A comprehensive ESG report may cover everything from energy usage and waste management to employee relations and corporate governance. By decomposing the report into its constituent parts, analysts can more effectively prioritize issues and discern patterns that might be obscured in a more holistic view.
  • Reframing ESG Issues to Uncover New Perspectives: Consider the challenge of gender disparity in corporate leadership. An initial frame might focus on hiring practices. But a reframe might consider corporate culture or work-life balance policies. By looking at the issue from different angles, we can discover more comprehensive and nuanced solutions.
  • Designing Constraints for More Focused ESG Analysis: While it's crucial to have a broad perspective, sometimes the sheer volume of ESG data can be overwhelming. By intelligently setting constraints—perhaps focusing only on data from a specific region, industry, or time period—analysts can derive more actionable insights.

Ten Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on ESG Data Analysis using Problem Formulation Techniques

1. How do these problem formulation techniques make ESG analysis more effective?

By employing techniques like problem diagnosis, decomposition, reframing, and constraint design, we delve deeper into the core of ESG issues. This deeper dive ensures our analysis captures the nuances and complexities inherent in these issues, leading to more informed investment decisions.
2. Isn't ESG data standardized? Why do we need a new approach?
While there are standardized metrics for ESG data, the challenges and contexts that businesses operate in are continually evolving. Our analytical methods need to evolve accordingly to ensure they remain relevant and insightful.
3. How can investors be sure that this approach yields better insights?
Investors can conduct pilot analyses using these techniques on a subset of their portfolio. Comparing insights derived using traditional methods versus the problem formulation approach will allow them to gauge the added value of this methodology.
4. Is this approach suitable for all types of ESG data?
While the principles of problem formulation are versatile, their application will vary based on the nature of the ESG data and the specific objectives of the analysis. The key is understanding which technique to employ and when.
5. How do these techniques influence long-term investment strategies?
By providing a deeper understanding of ESG issues, these techniques allow investors to better assess long-term risks and opportunities. This can shape investment strategies to be more resilient, sustainable, and aligned with global ESG trends.
6. Aren’t there already advanced AI tools that analyze ESG data?
Yes, there are AI tools available for ESG data analysis. However, the effectiveness of any AI solution hinges on the quality of the problem definition it's provided. These problem formulation techniques refine that input, making AI tools even more efficient and accurate.
7. Does this mean traditional ESG analysis techniques are obsolete?
Not necessarily. Traditional methods provide a foundation. These problem formulation techniques are tools that can enhance and refine traditional analyses, not replace them.
8. How can I train my team in these problem formulation techniques for ESG?
Start with workshops or training sessions that focus on the principles of problem formulation. Then, apply these principles to real-world ESG scenarios, gradually integrating them into your regular analytical processes.
9. Can these techniques be automated?
While the principles can guide automated systems, human insight is crucial for nuanced understanding and reframing. Think of automation as a tool that, when guided by these techniques, can produce more valuable insights.
10. How do these techniques compare to other advanced analytical methods?
These techniques are complementary. While advanced analytical methods dissect data, problem formulation ensures that the analysis is asking the right questions from the outset. Together, they create a comprehensive analytical approach.

The Road Ahead: Adapting and Evolving our ESG Analysis Techniques

As the world changes and ESG factors become even more central to business and investment decisions, it's imperative for our analytical methods to keep pace. Adopting techniques like problem formulation doesn't just make our analysis more effective; it ensures that we're capturing the full complexity and nuance of ESG issues.
Future challenges will demand even more from analysts. As datasets grow and become more intricate, and as global challenges intensify, the need for sharp, innovative analytical methods will only increase. The techniques explored in this article are just a starting point. By committing to ongoing learning and adaptation, we can ensure that our ESG analyses remain relevant, insightful, and actionable in the ever-evolving landscape of global business. As stakeholders in the global economy, let's challenge ourselves to innovate, adapt, and lead in the realm of ESG analysis. The future demands nothing less.
For those interested in diving deeper into this topic, much of the inspiration for this discussion comes from Oguz A. Acar's insightful piece on AI prompt engineering. Here's the original article for a deeper dive.


ESG Matters

Founded by one of the sustainability pioneers Dr Glenn Frommer, ESG Matters specialises in ESG data analytics, intelligent sensing technologies and sustainability advisory. Since 2014, ESG Matters has been a creator of digital platform solutions to meet the needs of sustainable impact investing and green financing. Working closely with listed companies, SMEs, and various growing organisations, ESG Matters aims to address the global market through providing business process outsourcing (BPO) services and solutions to achieve the relevant sustainable development goals (SDGs) and building resilience to climate change.

To learn more, visit