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A history of ESG

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More than seven decades have passed since the UN's first resolution on human rights. Since then, corporate sustainability has come a long way as organisations strive to tackle challenges around the environment, society and governance (ESG).  

As sustainability has evolved, environmental challenges (such as climate change and carbon emissions) have been the focus, although social and governance factors have become more prominent in recent years. Corporations have realised that effective handling of ESG challenges will ensure long-term success. 

Milestones such as the Paris Agreement, the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, and the launch of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have changed the lens through which we perceive corporate profitability.  

These and other milestones in the journey of corporate ESG are listed in the timeline below.

The journey of corporate ESG


The UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


The Environmental Defence Fund was formed to pursue legal actions against environmental damage.


The National Environmental Policy Act was passed in the US.


Greenpeace, a non-governmental environmental organization, was founded.


The Global 2000 Report to the President recognised the significance of biodiversity in the ecosystem.


The first meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development took place.


The Dow Jones Sustainability Index was launched.


The UN’s Millennium Development Goals were established.


China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO).


The World Summit on Sustainable Development was held in South Africa.


The Kyoto Protocol came into force. The term ‘ESG’ was coined by the UN Global Compact.


The UK Climate Change Act was proposed.


China overtook the US as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs).


The world Business Council for Sustainable Development first introduced its Vision 2050 study.


The Paris Agreement was signed.

The UN launched its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


The US pulled out of the Paris Agreement.

The UK introduced its Clean Growth Strategy and gender pay gap reporting.


The COP26 climate change summit was held in Glasgow, Scotland. 

The EU Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) came into effect.


The COP27 climate change summit will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.


The implementation of the Paris Agreement by member countries will be evaluated for the first time.


Deadline for signatories of the Global Methane Pledge to cut methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels. and the announcement that UK will ban the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles.


The US will ban the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles.


Deadline for Europe to become carbon neutral. 

Deadline for the US to become carbon neutral.


Deadline for China to become carbon neutral.


Deadline for India to become carbon neutral.

Source: GlobalData Thematic Intelligence

GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article. 

GlobalData’s Thematic Intelligence uses proprietary data, research, and analysis to provide a forward-looking perspective on the key themes that will shape the future of the world’s largest industries and the organisations within them.