2024 trends: the future of ESG



Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) frameworks are more popular than ever in the built environment, especially as mandatory UK ESG reporting requirements grow. Their adoption brings clear targets and structured action plans to make organisations more sustainable internally and throughout their supply chain. 

The ESG focus, however, is often overwhelmingly on the E – the environment – as the facilities management industry tackles wasteful energy emissions. Kam Singh, director of carbon reduction, has already offered his insight on the environment, with a focus on carbon reduction trends

Here, Jonathan Gawthrop, executive director, risk and sustainability at EMCOR UK, explores the trends we can look out for in 2024 regarding social and governance commitments.

Social intersections 

The systems of wellbeing are changing. While attending a recent wellbeing conference it really dawned on me how intersectional social value initiatives have become. The ‘S’ acts as umbrella term for many initiatives; wellbeing teams, safety managers, and equality, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) operators. By targeting social impact these initiatives no longer fall under separate (though homogenous) work teams. 

Instead, we now need to pivot to a whole person approach. No singular team, like the HR department, or my own wellbeing and sustainability department, can deliver social inclusivity by themselves. 

Though the subject matter experts and project leaders can reside in these departments, the whole organisation is responsible for deploying social initiatives. Leaders can help frame and enable their teams to understand their roles in transforming the organisation, but they cannot do it alone. 

ESG frameworks

The most effective way to adopt a people-centric approach is through an ESG framework. I recommend ISO 45003, an occupational health and safety management guideline for workplace psychosocial risk. Guidelines enable organisations to think of how to develop the necessary strategy and conditions to enable people to be looked after, even in the simplest sense.  

ISO 45003 is just one mechanism, however. Other models adopt stakeholder-leadership collaborative models that focus on the management and specialist support resources available to employees. I think that the Business in the Community Workwell Model does this effectively. 

The Workwell model focuses on the whole person through strategically targeting the mental, physical, financial, social, and environmental health of an organisation. This way, we can develop an inclusive overall culture. 

Collaboration breeds innovation 

Beyond exploring these models, I urge organisations to prioritise partnering and collaboration, both internally and with other groups. 

A great way to focus on this on a global scale is by aligning UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). When we signed up to the UN Global Compact, we were already prioritising eight SDGs as quantifiable areas of progress, including Good Health and Wellbeing (SGD3).   

Developing partnerships in specific regional areas is also key. We can help support circular workplace economies, enabling us to have a greater social impact in the areas we operate in. One of our most successful schemes in this area has been our work with customer British Sugar and charity Access Community Trust (ACT), which was detailed in a blog earlier this year. 

The scheme was implemented after we found that mental health was the second highest reason for absenteeism for our staff at the British Sugar plant. By working with ACT to develop support programmes, we had a 50 per cent reduction in absenteeism for colleagues working at British Sugar and were able to give employees mental health training. 

We also employed two people through our links with ACT, and refurbished the Steam Café in Kings Lynn to create an area where people could access personalised mental health support. This scheme was successful because it was collaborative at its core. It allowed us to work directly with the communities impacted by our presence. 

Collaborations need to be reciprocal and not purely transactional. I think more organisations can learn to value and prioritise their internal and extended groups through community outreach work. 


Official ESG frameworks and mandated reporting of emission reduction is the big G of governance. However, in my role there is a smaller G that is coming into play throughout the sector. 

This smaller governance G refers to more localised rules for company conduct, which could easily remain empty promises if organisations don’t evidence their changes. 

As the 2021 Great Resignation highlighted, if change isn’t felt, people will leave. Organisations needs to start using social value frameworks as a recruitment and retention tool for employees. They need to ask themselves, what do we do beyond providing shareholder return? 

Financially, times are hard right now. We have seen much market instability. Many people will be battling with the cost-of-living crisis, and organisations may be looking to save. 

I do, however, think that companies need to view social value as a core area of investment and integrate it into future spending plans. Without social value, employees do not derive full value from their work. An unenthusiastic workforce is an unsustainable one in the long run. 

This applies to worker autonomy too. Organisations need to assess their internal tone and wonder whether it is human-centric enough. Previously, people have misconceived human-centric organisations as “soft” or lacking any sense of authority. 

However, to feel like they are valued, organisations need to respect their workers’ freedom, rather than crack the whip and focus solely on the bottom line. 

Authentic change for 2024 

I’ve mentioned that it’s easy to lose employees when there isn’t actional change. More than this, companies that simply use progressive rhetoric without holding themselves accountable run the risk of “woke washing”

In ED&I, for example, it’s easy to produce diverse imagery without looking within the organisation and understanding its demographics. We can avoid the snake oil by listening to employee engagement feedback and evidencing what work is being done, to build trust between employees and management. 

For 2024, companies need to strategise and look at what is not working within their organisations, introduce intersectional plans for social sustainability, and ultimately listen to what their employees want. Being human-centric is the only way for us to ensure that our employees, and our overall company structures are healthy, happy, and thriving.      

To learn more about EMCOR UK’s sustainable initiatives, read our sustainability report