Navigating the ESG Landscape: A Global Perspective with Regional Nuances
13 Mar, 2024

Chris Blair, CEO of 21st Century



“In today’s corporate world, the integration of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors into executive compensation plans has become a beacon of progressive strategy, illuminating the path towards sustainability and responsible governance. A recent webinar by the Global Governance and Executive Compensation (GECN) Group and subsequent discussions have unveiled a compelling tapestry of how global and regional narratives are shaping the adoption of ESG measures in executive compensation, reflecting a complex mosaic of challenges and opportunities that companies face worldwide.


“The imperative to intertwine ESG strategies with executive incentive schemes is more than just a trend – it is a nuanced understanding of the long-term orientation of ESG goals against the backdrop of immediate business imperatives. With the global adoption of ESG measures in executive compensation climbing to an impressive 87% among large companies, the movement towards embedding sustainability into the corporate DNA is undeniable. Yet, this global consensus belies a deeper, more intricate story of regional variations that echo the diverse challenges and opportunities across the globe.


Global Surge and Regional Stories


“In the rich narrative of regional approaches to ESG integration, Canada’s story stands out. The country’s economy, heavily reliant on natural resources, faces a unique challenge in balancing environmental stewardship with economic growth. Canadian companies are navigating this tightrope with a focus on quantifiable ESG targets that reflect broader investor pressures, underscoring the country’s cautious yet determined stride towards sustainability.


“The United States presents a contrasting picture, where the politicisation of ESG has sparked considerable debate. Despite facing regulatory challenges and a contentious atmosphere, American companies are steadfast in their commitment to sustainability. They are strategically focusing on ‘sustainability’ measures directly linked to financial returns, showcasing resilience and adaptability in the face of adversity.


“Across the pond, the United Kingdom’s ‘comply or explain’ regulatory framework offers a unique blend of flexibility and accountability. The prevalence of ESG metrics in short-term incentive plans, alongside a nuanced approach by private equity firms towards ESG targets, paints a picture of a region committed to transparency and varied commitments to sustainability.


“In South Africa, the narrative is one of robust engagement with ESG goals, driven by the highest prevalence of ESG factors in executive compensation design among large companies. However, this engagement is moderated by the practical challenges and costs associated with ESG strategies, leading to a focus on Corporate Social Investment (CSI) strategies that closely align with local community needs and legislative requirements.


“Europe leads the charge in ESG adoption, especially in long-term incentive plans, set against a backdrop of stringent regulatory initiatives like the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD). These regulations are poised to shape the European approach to sustainability, driving companies towards greater transparency and commitment to ESG goals.


Metrics and Measures: A Closer Look


“Diving deeper into the metrics, reveals that the global surge in ESG integration is underpinned by a variety of measures and targets. For instance, environmental metrics often focus on carbon footprint reduction, energy efficiency improvements, and sustainable resource use. Social metrics may include workforce diversity targets, employee engagement scores, and community investment initiatives. Governance metrics, on the other hand, frequently revolve around board diversity, ethical business practices, and transparency in reporting.


“Regionally, the metrics reflect the unique challenges and priorities of each area. In Canada, for example, a significant emphasis is placed on environmental metrics due to the country’s natural resource dependency. The U.S., with its complex regulatory and social landscape, has seen a rise in governance metrics, particularly around ethical business practices and transparency. The UK’s focus on social metrics, particularly related to workforce diversity and employee engagement, reflects its broader societal values and regulatory environment. In South Africa there is a large focus on social metrics driven by the attempt to repair the inequities of the past.


The Path Forward: Balancing Global Trends and Regional Nuances


“As companies worldwide strive to align their ESG goals with executive compensation in a way that fosters long-term sustainability, the journey promises to be as diverse and nuanced as the regions charting their paths through it. The challenge lies not only in integrating ESG measures into the corporate strategy but doing so in a manner that respects the global imperatives and regional specificities.


“This deep dive into the ESG landscape, enriched by specific metrics and regional narratives, underscores the complexity of navigating global and regional dynamics. The commitment to ESG integration reflects a broader understanding that sustainability and responsible governance are not just corporate buzzwords but essential components of long-term business success. As we stand at the crossroads of sustainability and corporate governance, the choices made by companies across different regions will undoubtedly shape our collective future.


“We are here to provide information, and to help with a wide range of inquiries regarding the complex are of ESG. If you have any requests or need assistance with this important topic, feel free to ask!”


This article is based on research conducted by 21st Century, one of the largest remuneration consultancies in Africa. Please contact us at for any further information.







@Chris Blair, 21st Century
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