Giving the 'Governance' in ESG some sex appeal...

In March 2023 I was in Bangkok, standing on top of the tallest building in Thailand. I was seven months into a much needed career break, having quit my job at a leading American law firm the previous summer to travel the world with my wife. I was looking south across this extraordinary city and the vast Chao Phraya river.

I realised that if I could see about a thousand miles, I would be looking directly at Singapore, where I have a good friend (and former client) who heads the Compliance team at one of the world’s largest media companies.

28 February 2024 | Six minutes

I picked up my phone and gave him a call to check-in. I had been thinking about the idea for what is now Gen-R Law since the start of that year, and about a week earlier had put pen to paper on the first draft of what would, months later, become a business plan.




The view south from the top of MahaNakhon, the tallest skyscraper in Thailand!



After chatting away for a little while I floated the concept – the first time I had raised the idea of opening a law firm which practiced every aspect of the law through the lens of climate change, with a former client. He was immediately very positive about the idea, and it turned out that he was leading on certain aspects of Environment, Social & Governance (ESG) in his own work, having recently led a training session on the topic for a group of colleagues. After we had knocked the concept about for a few minutes he asked me a question.


How do I get people interested in Governance?


That question is one that I have since encountered numerous times, from businesses and industries all around the world. In this day and age it is easy to get colleagues interested in Environmental issues, and discussion of Social matters is always hugely topical. But Governance, unfortunately, is perceived to be boring, and when Governance comes into the discussion, people tend to lose focus.


Here’s the problem. Governance is the most important part of ESG. You cannot achieve anything significant in relation to your company’s Environmental or Social impact, if you do not first begin by embedding proper Governance throughout the organisation.


So maybe the time has come to give Governance a bit of sex appeal. To make sure that people pay more attention, not less, when we lead a discussion of ESG not with the E or the S, but the all-important G.


Here are ten ideas to help get you started.


1. Governance is all about culture. Culture is multi-faceted. If the culture of a place is the culmination of its art, food, music, fashion, history and politics, then the culture of a company is the culmination of its vision, values, purpose, ethos, branding, leadership, products and services. Every exciting place in the world can be described by reference to its culture. The same is true for exciting businesses.


2. Governance is the difference between a company that is willing to dump toxic chemicals into public rivers, and one that will pay to dispose of them safely. It is the difference between a company that is willing to lead with ambitious climate transition targets, and one that clings to a harmful business model in the name of profitability. It is the difference between a company that leaves broken fishing lines in the ocean, and one that takes the time to recover them. Good Governance is how you prevent environmental harms.


3. Governance is the difference between a company that pays minimum wage and a living wage. It is the difference between a company that takes health and safety seriously or treats it as a secondary issue. It is the difference between a genuine equal opportunities employer, and one which treats DEI as a ‘woke’ subject. Good Governance is how you achieve social justice.


4. Good Governance keeps slave labour out of supply chains. In doing so, it helps to combat slavery.


5. Integrity. Respect. Communication. Excellence. These were the stated values at… Enron. Governance is the difference between words and values. Good Governance is the difference between scandal and success.


6. Good Governance underpins successful societies. Humans cannot thrive in environments which are prone to violence, corruption and social breakdown. Governance in the form of good old fashioned laws, regulations, policies and procedures is the first step in breaking these unfortunate cycles.


7. Governance helps you speak truth to power. It has your back when a manager asks you to do something inappropriate and gives you a foundation from which to respond. Good Governance means your manager won’t ask you to do something inappropriate in the first place.


8. Good Governance drives a business to think beyond just its shareholders, and about its wider audience of stakeholders. In so doing, businesses can also find new ways to increase long term shareholder value.


9. Governance promotes genuine respect for human rights and indigenous peoples. Good Governance creates the space for collaboration between peoples from different backgrounds, ethnicities and faiths, creating a better world for all of us in the process.


10. Governance is like a Hollywood Celebrity wearing a G-string on the red carpet. Get it right and you’ll barely even notice it’s there, even though it underpins the entire outfit. Get it wrong and you’ll quickly find yourself in the news for the wrong reasons!



I have spent most of my career to-date practising law as a White Collar Crime lawyer. A significant part of that role involved advising companies on topics such as anti-bribery, anti-money laundering, tax compliance and fraud, and work in this space generally focused on the careful use and development of risk assessments, policies and procedures, training and tailored due diligence.  All of this falls squarely within the Governance element of ESG, and the soft skills apply to efforts across all three elements of the ESG framework.


If your professional role involves governance, compliance, risk management or other similar functions, you too have some of the most important skills that are needed in our collective efforts against climate change.


So be bold in claiming your colleagues’ attention when it comes to the humble but all-important G in ESG. Because when it comes to tackling climate change and advancing the ESG agenda, nothing is sexier or more important than good Governance.


If you aren’t quite sure where to start, I hope that some of these suggestions might be useful.

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