The new CEPAR® model: a five-step methodology to tackle corporate ESG challenges

Paulina P.Y. Wong (Science Unit, Lingnan University, Hong Kong SAR, China)
Mike S.F. Hui (International Chamber of Sustainable Development, Hong Kong SAR, China)
Angus W.H. Yip (International Chamber of Sustainable Development, Hong Kong SAR, China)

Public Administration and Policy: An Asia-Pacific Journal

ISSN: 2517-679X

Article publication date: 9 May 2024

Issue publication date: 13 May 2024

842

Abstract

Purpose

Addressing Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues has become a critical aspect of business strategy. Since ESG has primarily focused on ratings and measures for reporting, there is a scarcity of methods to assist stakeholders in better comprehending corporate risk and addressing ESG-related issues and problems. The purpose of this paper is to propose a new model to narrow the critical gap.

Design/methodology/approach

This study is based on several well-known structural frameworks for managing risks and projects in various industries. Two case studies on topics related to environment (E) and social (S) responsibility are used to demonstrate the practical implementation of the CEPAR® model.

Findings

The CEPAR® model, a trademarked five-step methodology (the Challenge-Evaluation-Planning-Action-Review model) was developed by the International Chamber of Sustainable Development (ICSD). The method and guidelines are outlined for easier appreciation by stakeholders of corporations to analyze ESG-related challenges and dilemmas, then able to make principled decisions, take actions, and review the outcomes. Each phase of the new model adheres to the theoretical and practical frameworks for problem-solving and decision-making, emphasizing the iterate process of addressing challenges, evaluating materiality, planning actions, taking actions, and reviewing the outcomes.

Originality/value

The new model is applicable for business corporations and organizations seeking to gain insight and tackle crucial ESG issues, ultimately improving their short- and long-term decision-making and business opportunities.

Keywords

Citation

Wong, P.P.Y., Hui, M.S.F. and Yip, A.W.H. (2024), "The new CEPAR® model: a five-step methodology to tackle corporate ESG challenges", Public Administration and Policy: An Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 27 No. 1, pp. 6-18. https://doi.org/10.1108/PAP-03-2024-0037

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2024, Paulina P.Y. Wong, Mike S.F. Hui and Angus W.H. Yip

License

Published in Public Administration and Policy. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this license may be seen at http://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/legalcode


Introduction

The acronym “ESG” which stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance, comprises a set of metrics used to evaluate an organization’s non-financial sustainability performance. These metrics are designed to gauge the effectiveness of an organization’s governance systems and its capacity to manage its environmental and social impact. It also offers a means of assessing potential business hazards and opportunities in these areas. The concept of ESG is not new. It was initially introduced in 2004 in a landmark study titled “Who Cares Wins: Connecting Financial Markets to a Changing World” which was carried out by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and financial institutions to scrutinize the role of environmental, social, and governance value indicators in asset management and financial research (Compact UN Global, 2004). Subsequently, it was also noted in the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) report, launched by UNEP Finance Initiative and the UN Global Compact in 2006 (Eccles et al., 2020). The PRI denotes a voluntary framework that enables investors to integrate ESG considerations into their decision-making and ownership practices, thereby enhancing the alignment of their objectives with those of the broader society.

ESG refers to a system employed by companies to assess their environmental and social credentials. Businesses have the ability to evaluate themselves based on environmental, social and governance criteria. According to a report by Bloomberg Intelligence (2021), it is projected that investments in socially responsible ventures, which are evaluated based on ESG ratings, will surpass US$53 trillion by the year 2025. This amount is expected to account for over one-third of the total global assets of management. ESG ratings and measures are designed for ESG reporting instead of monitoring individual underlying issues (Clement et al., 2023). Currently, there is a scarcity of methods or tools available within the industry for stakeholders or professionals to adopt and effectively evaluate the underlying ESG-related issues. Consequently, a solution is developed by the International Chamber of Sustainable Development (ICSD) to narrow this critical gap: the new five-step CEPAR® methodology, the Challenge-Evaluation-Planning-Action-Review model. The method combines several traditional and reputed frameworks or models under risk management or investment. It is originated from the well-recognized CFA Institute Ethical Decision-Making Framework (Identify-Consider-Act-Reflect), which serves as a tool for analyzing and assessing ethical scenarios within the investment profession (CFA Institute, 2017). Other widely accepted frameworks, for example, the six-step financial planning process developed by the Financial Planning Standard Board (FPSB), the four-step risk management process (Rejda, 1998) and other theoretical frameworks (Babatunde and Adebisi, 2012; Mintzberg, 1993) have been reviewed and referenced. Noteworthy, the four-step risk management process (Rejda, 1998; Belgodere et al., 2021) is more generic, which can be applied to different industries and contexts, and it supports the stakeholders or professionals to focus on identifying and managing potential risks.

Theoretical framework

Although ESG has existed for nearly two decades, it has only been popularized in the past few years, particularly upon the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement at the United Nations Framework Convention and the development of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 (UN General Assembly, 2015). The primary objective of the Paris Agreement is to mitigate the effects of climate change by restricting the escalation of global average temperature to below 2°C (36°F) above the levels observed in the pre-industrial era. It also emphasizes the need to undertake efforts to curtail the increase to 1.5°C (35°F). In recent years, the physical consequences of climate change have become ubiquitous, from unprecedented wildfires to severe flooding, droughts, intense heat waves, and hurricanes. It has caused shipping and supply chain disruptions, resulting in higher insurance costs and decreased profits. Almost all industries, companies, and businesses have been threatened, either directly or indirectly, by the impact of climate change. In September 2021, major oil and gas companies shut down more than 90 percent of the oil production and operations and evacuated workers from offshore platforms located in the Gulf of Mexico due to Hurricane Ida. The massive storm resulted in a reduction of approximately 30 million barrels in US oil production throughout the year, thereby exerting a significant impact on the energy production and supply. Mattison and Mintz (2019) reported that 80 percent of the world’s largest companies are reporting exposure to physical or market transition risks associated with climate change.

The United Nations introduced the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, which encompasses 17 SDGs. These SDGs, commonly referred to as global goals, serve as an urgent call to action for all nations, both developed and developing, to collaborate in order to attain inclusive and sustainable development on a global scale by 2030 (UN General Assembly, 2015). The agenda was built on the principle of “leaving no one behind” to ensure that no individual would be excluded or marginalized while tackling the issue of climate change. The 17 SDGs encompass a comprehensive set of targets, consisting of 169 specific objectives. These targets serve as a valuable tool for companies and businesses, aiding them in assessing their sustainability risks and formulating effective action plans. The SDG framework has become the beneficial framework for responsible investment, particularly as the business world increasingly prioritizes ESG considerations. The SDG agenda embodies significant potential as it facilitates and incentivizes various stakeholders, including governments, companies, suppliers, and clients, to promptly engage in actions and contribute toward a more sustainable future (Niloufar et al., 2022). Hence, ESG aligns very well with SDGs and the metrics are often mapped across the 17 goals. Each SDG may signify a domain of risk to business and society (Trucost, 2018), which might persist and intensify unless they are adequately and efficiently tackled. Hence, ESG factors are highly compatible with the SDGs, and the ESG metrics are frequently correlated with all 17 SDGs. Ultimately, organizations and businesses that adopt a proactive approach toward the SDG agenda are expected to improve their ESG and sustainability performance, resulting in higher ESG ratings while simultaneously uncovering new sustainability growth and development opportunities (Aldowaish et al., 2022). Ortiz-de-Mandojana and Bansal (2016) revealed that a positive correlation exists between strong sustainability performance and lower financial volatility, increased sales growth, and enhanced long-term survival prospects across a 15-year time frame. There is also anecdotal evidence from corporate leaders that products associated with sustainable practices tend to experience faster growth, e.g., Hindustan Unilever (Jeevan, 2016).

Since various problem solving and project management frameworks are similar in nature, to make a concise articulation for the theoretical framework, the CFA Institute Ethical Decision-Making Framework is adopted for more detailed referencing. The CFA Institute, established in 1947, is a worldwide non-profit professional organization that seeks to offer accredited finance education and training to investment professionals (CFA Institute, 2023). The Institute has established a valuable resource known as the ethical decision-making framework, which aims to assist investment professionals in resolving a variety of ethical scenarios and challenges that transcend “right” or “wrong” (CFA Institute, 2017). The framework consists of four major elements: Identify, Consider, Act, and Reflect.

Under the CFA ethical decision-making framework, Identify involves recognizing relevant facts, stakeholders, duties owed, ethical principles, and conflicts of interest. It emphasizes the importance of gathering comprehensive information and considering multiple perspectives to identify important issues that may impact decision-making (CFA Institute, 2019, pp.16-17). This element expects to guide professionals and stakeholders to clearly define and understand the challenges and issues that they are facing. This is similar to the first step of the four-step risk management process, Risk Identification, which involves recognizing and defining potential risks or opportunities. Hence, the Challenge phase of the new CEPAR® Model describes the process of identifying material ESG factors and is referenced in the Identify element under the CFA framework. Both models involve recognizing and understanding the challenges or issues at hand (ESG-related risks) and the potential impact on the business.

For the Consider element under the CFA framework, it is crucial to evaluate the materiality of the challenges identified and consider ethical aspects in decision-making. According to the CFA Institute, ethical conduct goes beyond legal requirements and encompasses what various societal groups consider ethically correct behavior. Ethical decision-making requires individuals to think through the facts of the situation and make appropriate choices even in the absence of clear laws or rules. It involves judgment, actively considering the interests of stakeholders, and striving to benefit multiple stakeholders while minimizing risks, including reputational risk (CFA Institute, 2019). Similarly, the second step of the four-step risk management process, Risk Assessment, involves qualitatively and quantitatively assessing and evaluating the risks or opportunities. Hence, the Evaluation phase of the new CEPAR® Model highlights the importance of assessing the corporate performance on the identified challenges and evaluating both their impact and financial materiality for the business (Schoenmaker and Schramade, 2019). It is also crucial to consider the long-term consequences and avoid over-reliance on compliance alone. Evaluating the ethical aspects of challenges requires a broader perspective and consideration of the interests of stakeholders beyond shareholder wealth maximization and immediate situational influences.

The Act element of the CFA framework involves actions taken, but places emphasis on the continuous monitoring and feedback that occurs during the implementation process of the planned strategies, ensuring their alignment with long-term objectives of the organization. Organizations are encouraged to engage in performance measurement, wherein they assess their performance, compare it against the desired outcomes, and implement necessary adaptations or corrective actions. The iterative nature of decision-making underscores the need for ongoing review and change in order to ensure that planning and execution are in accordance with intended objectives (CFA Institute, 2019). The CEPAR® model entails the division of the Act process into two distinct phases, namely Planning and Action. During the Planning phase, the focus is to develop a comprehensive and organized plan that is both effective and successful. It is noteworthy that the plan is not static and should be adaptable to evolving conditions. The significance of emphasizing the iterative nature of planning and execution, as well as the incorporation of stakeholder viewpoints and ethical decision-making standards, cannot be overstated in the Action phase. The implementation of regular reviews and input from stakeholders facilitates an ongoing improvement and refinement of the plan.

This notion refers specifically to the third and fourth steps of the four-step risk management process, namely Risk Treatment and Risk Monitoring and Reporting. The purpose of Risk Treatment is to formulate a treatment plan that mitigates the likelihood or severity of risks and enhances the probability or advantages of opportunities (aligns with the Planning phase of the CEPAR® model), whereas Risk Monitoring and Reporting are centered on the ongoing monitoring and reporting of risks, opportunities, and their corresponding treatment plans (aligns with the Review phase of the CEPAR® model). Overall, the Planning phase of the CEPAR® model provides the foundation for action by developing a comprehensive plan, while the subsequent Action phase is where the planned strategies are executed and monitored. The use of feedback loops to focus on continuous improvement in both phases ensures that strategic planning is properly implemented into action and progress is made toward desired goals (Schoenmaker and Schramade, 2019).

The final component of the CFA framework, Reflect, encourages a rigorous examination aimed at identifying areas in need of improvement and informing subsequent ethical decision-making processes. This highlights the iterative and reflective nature inherent in the professional realm, when individuals are expected to continuously evaluate and derive insights from their decisions and actions. Gaining a comprehensive awareness of one’s personal strengths and weaknesses might significantly enhance the ability to make more informed and ethically sound decisions in the future. Likewise, the Review phase of the CEPAR® model maintains the iterative character of the reflection and assessment process as mentioned in the Reflect (CFA) and Risk Monitoring and Reporting (four-step). The focus lies on assessing the outcome against specific evaluation criteria, which encompass long-term objectives, ESG goals, non-financial KPIs, contributions to SDGs, and financial KPIs. Furthermore, the notion proposes the pursuit of direction, evaluating alternative actions, and reflecting multiple times as new information and consequences unfold (CFA Institute, 2019). Generally, both the Reflect and Review approaches emphasize the importance of the iterative reflection and internal review to enhance ethical decision-making processes, while also prioritizing the interests of clients and organizations. This is not a final stage.

Table 1 provides an overview of the referenced idea and the model structure of both approaches (CEPAR® vs. CFA) with respect to the four-step risk management process. Both approaches adhere to a structural framework for problem-solving and decision-making, emphasizing addressing challenges, evaluating options, planning actions, taking action, and reviewing the outcomes.

Methodology

The CEPAR® model is a five-step methodology newly developed by ICSD as a practical tool for stakeholders and professionals in the industry. Its purpose is to facilitate the adoption of essential knowledge and skills, as well as the effective evaluation of underlying ESG-related risks. Ultimately, it aims to tackle the most pressing ESG issues, enhance the effectiveness of decision-making and increase business opportunities. Table 2 summarizes the questions and guidelines on how to adopt the CEPAR® Model for particular scenarios and case studies.

Case studies and discussions

This section presents two case studies that examine the concepts of social (S) responsibility (Case Study 1) and environmental (E) responsibility (Case Study 2). These case studies exemplify the implementation of the new CEPAR® model in various disciplines.

Conclusion

Globally, there is a growing trend among corporations to prioritize sustainability by actively pursuing ESG objectives, driven by the significant repercussions of climate change. Addressing ESG-related risks has become an essential element of business strategy (Schoenmaker and Schramade, 2019). However, most of the tools have only focused on ESG ratings and measures for reporting instead of supporting stakeholders and professionals to better comprehend corporate risk and effectively tackle urgent ESG concerns. The new proposed five-step CEPAR® Model methodology expects to narrow this gap. The CFA Institute’s ethical decision-making framework (CFA Institute, 2017) serves as the structural foundation for the new proposed CEPAR® Model, which also includes the principles from the six-step financial planning process developed by Financial Planning Standard Board and the four-step risk management process (Rejda, 1998). The method and guidelines are outlined in this study for easier appreciation by any stakeholders and workers of corporations to analyze ethical dilemmas, make principled decisions, take actions, and review outcomes. Two case studies from different fields (social and environmental) are introduced to illustrate the practical adoption of the CEPAR® model. Ultimately, organizations and businesses that adopt the model are expected to enhance their short- and long-term decision-making skills, improve the overall ESG and sustainability performance of the company and increase business opportunities.

The new five-step CEPAR® model was developed in 2020 by ICSD and is currently being adopted in the Certified ESG Planner (CEP®) education program (ICSD, 2023). The concept was initially inspired by the globally recognized advanced certification for financial planners known as Certified Financial Planner (CFP) that follows a six-step approach to financial planning (CFP Board, 2024). The aim of the Certified ESG Planner (CEP®) education program is to equip students with the essential knowledge and skills to cope with the most pressing ESG issues in a complex world. As of now (2024), over 3,000 people have taken the education program, and the ICSD has over 2,000 members from different industries, and holds the title of Certified ESG Planners (CEP®). They are familiar with the new CEPAR® model and capable of addressing sustainability problems and providing practical advice. The CEPAR® model has also been utilized as an assessment tool for both undergraduate and postgraduate ESG-related courses in universities (i.e., The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Lingnan University), as well as executive training programs at a professional organization (i.e., The Hong Kong Management Association). Future study may seek to analytically assess the effectiveness and practicality of the model among a wide range of stakeholders/organizations from various industries.

Overview of the referenced idea and model structure of CEPAR® and CFA Framework, with respect to the four-step Risk Management process

CEPAR® ModelCFA FrameworkReference IdeasFour-Step Risk Management
ChallengeIdentifyChallenge: includes identifying core corporate-level challenges or potential ESG-related challenges
Identify: involves identifying the challenges or dilemmas in general
Risk Identification
EvaluationConsiderEvaluation: involves evaluating the materiality of the challenges identified and considering ethical aspects in the decision-making process
Consider: emphasizes the importance of ethical considerations in the evaluation of challenges and decision-making processes
Risk Assessment
PlanningActPlanning: involves developing a comprehensive and organized action plan that is adaptable to changing circumstances
Action: allocates resources and implements action plan Act: make a decision and act
Risk Treatment
Action
ReviewReflectReview: evaluates the outcome of the actions taken against various specific evaluation criteria and identifies areas for improvement
Reflect: encourages a rigorous examination aimed at identifying areas in need of improvement and informs subsequent ethical decision-making processes.
Risk Monitoring and Reporting

Source: By authors

Overview of how to adopt the CEPAR® Model for a business to evaluate the underlying ESG-related issues

CEPAR® ModelQuestion and Guidelines
ChallengeWhat is your Challenge?
  • Identify one or more core business challenges related to ESG risks and opportunities, such as (E) environmental issues of carbon emissions, waste management, pollution; (S) social issues of employee benefits, Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) issues, human capital management; and (G) governance issues of board diversity, general business ethics.

EvaluationIs your challenge material to the corporation’s business?
  • Consider double materiality in light of both the impact materiality on society and the environment and the financial materiality of its implications. This step confirms the materiality of the challenges identified using the materiality matrix of the corporate stakeholders, if available, Sustainability Accounting Standard Board (SASB) materiality framework checking, and also stakeholder analysis by identifying both long-term and short-term goals of stakeholders.

  • Stakeholder analysis: identify major stakeholders and prepare a stakeholder impact map (Schoenmaker and Schramade, 2019, pp. 136-137).

  • The materiality analysis confirms the relevance of the challenges to the long-term sustainability of the corporation and justifies its allocation of resources.

  • It should prioritise the challenges if more than one challenge were identified in step 1.

PlanningWhat are the policy directions that are beneficial to the corporation and the stakeholders?
  • Determine the policy plans that are beneficial to the ESG risk mitigation/transition to a sustainable world. Develop a strategic plan, refined business proposition and even a modified business model that is adaptable to changing circumstances.

  • Discuss whether the plans contribute to frameworks like the specific goals of the SDGs, ISO standards, SBTi, TCFD, TNFD, GRI, SASB, CSRD, IFRS S1 & S2, etc.

  • From the policy plan, the direction to determine the policy’s success will be discussed.

  • Set target performance and metrics.

ActionHow can you implement the action plan?
  • Illustrate the action plan (i.e., resource allocation, incentive schemes for management and employees, training and culture-building activities, etc.) to facilitate the implementation of the ESG solution. Consider the concept of just transition in the process.

  • The solution to ESG risks and opportunities intends to help corporations sustain long-term sustainability and competitiveness by re-affirming social license to operate, enhancing customer loyalty, improving efficiency, alleviating climate physical and transition risks, reducing regulatory pressure, increasing employee satisfaction, mitigating negative externalities, or ensuring benefit from sustainability megatrends.

ReviewHow would you evaluate the implementation outcome?
  • Review the outcome of the actions taken against various specific key performance indicators. The key performance indicators take into account qualitative as well as quantitative benchmarks to determine the success of the policy plan. The key performance indicators can reference the sustainability report data disclosure required by the government for listed companies and international standards.

  • Evaluate if the outcome meets the desired goals and identify areas for improvement. This stage also serves as a feedback loop to modify the policy plan and target performance defined in the Planning step.

Source: By authors

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Corresponding author

Angus W.H. Yip is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: angus.yip@icsd-global.org

About the authors

Paulina P.Y. Wong holds a Doctorate degree in Geography from The University of Hong Kong and a M.Sc. (GIS) from the University of Auckland, New Zealand. She is Associate Professor and Head of the Science Unit at Lingnan University and Associate Director of the LEO Dr David P. Chan Institute of Data Science. She is an environmental geographer specializing in environmental health, urban sensing, GeoAI application and ESG. She is a Certified GIS Professional and ESG Planner (CEP®).

Mike S.F. Hui is Founding Vice Chairman of International Chamber of Sustainable Development (ICSD), Adjunct Lecturer at School of Professional and Continuing Education, The University of Hong Kong, and Part-time Lecturer of various universities in Hong Kong. He obtained his DBA degree from University of Wales TSD and is a Chartered Financial Analyst with working experience in banking and securities sector. His research focus is sustainable and responsible investment, ESG and behavioral finance. He is a Certified ESG Planner (CEP®).

Angus W.H. Yip is Founding Chairman of International Chamber of Sustainable Development (ICSD) and Adjunct Associate Professor at School of Professional and Continuing Education and the Institute of China Business, The University of Hong Kong. He has been advising listed companies in ESG reporting since 2015 and worked in the banking and asset management field for more than 30 years. He holds DBA degree from University of Wales TSD, a Master’s degree in Sustainability Leadership from Cambridge University and a Master’s degree in Management from Harvard University. He is a Certified ESG Planner (CEP®).

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