ESG Data is Like Less Wife Beating

B. Lorraine Smith
9 min readFeb 21, 2020
Chalk drawing on blackboard, edited in PowerPoint (by me).

Imagine a friend telling us a story about his mother. She called him up to say:

“I’ve got some great news! I counted up how many times your dad beat me this year compared to last year. It’s more than 10% less than last year! And he’s committed to even less next year.”

What do you think our friend might have said in response?

Probably not, “Wow, that’s great news, mom!” He knows that wife beating is not okay — especially not his mother. A 10% reduction — heck even a 90% reduction — is unacceptable.

Also, it’s unacceptable if his dad beats his mom less than their neighbor’s husband beats his wife. Both are behaving unacceptably — our friend’s dad is not a leader in “less-wife-beating”.

The only acceptable trajectory in terms of domestic abuse is a complete end to it, including protection for victims to avoid further harm, and steps for all to heal.

We know what is and isn’t acceptable

I have come to see the use of environmental, social and governance (aka ESG) data as a form of less wife beating, where the wife in question is everyone’s mother, Earth. This is awkward because I have spent the last decade and a half contributing to the ESG machine, hoping it was helpful.

Why have I concluded this? Because as a relatively blunt instrument ESG data today only indicates harm reduction. It is not designed to adequately (or even partially, in most cases) illustrate regenerative practices. Yet without this essential piece, we’re congratulating companies for leadership in less wife beating.

This is repulsive language, I know. It might be making you cringe. You might be thinking judgey thoughts about me instead of internalizing what I’m saying.

Why don’t we cringe when companies beat our Earth repeatedly, if a little less than last year? Not only do we not cringe, we celebrate the mainstreaming of ESG data that reveals how much less of a beating is going on.

I can anticipate — and hear quite regularly — the pushback on this. “It’s going to be a transition. It’s going to take time.”

I used to take that as a reasonable answer but now I think it’s part of the problem, akin to our friend responding…

B. Lorraine Smith

Recovering ESG "expert"; yarn spinner; distance runner; magical realist. Sensing a path to an economy serving life. also at