Elevate your ESG maturity: Strategy and roadmap

By setting ESG goals and developing roadmaps early, companies can effectively embed ESG across their organizations, gain competitive advantage, and improve overall performance.


To best identify its ESG priorities, set measurable goals, develop plans for achieving those goals, and effectively communicate their ESG strategy to all stakeholders, an organization needs an ESG strategy and roadmap: a structured framework that outlines its progression in its environmental, social, and governance commitments and practices. The roadmap not only identifies the company’s current position in its ESG journey, but also highlights milestones and targets toward ingraining practices that drive sustainable value. Roadmaps help organizations measure their ESG performance against standard benchmarks, and continuously refine their approach to stay aligned with evolving stakeholder expectations and global sustainability requirements.

The state of development of this strategy roadmap is another key differentiator between companies at the three stages of CohnReznick’s ESG Maturity ModelNoviceSupporter, and Gamechanger.

Maturity Model: Strategy and roadmap

This aspect of the ESG journey is all about developing a structured progression framework to help the organization methodically advance its ESG performance. The strategy outlines the overarching vision and goals the organization seeks to achieve, while the roadmap provides a detailed path for each stage of its sustainability journey, with short-, medium-, and long-term milestones.

Maturity Model: Strategy and roadmap



Weak ESG vision with no measurable targets from leadership and regularly changing priorities

Clear ESG strategy with specific, measurable targets

ESG vision/strategy is integrated into overall enterprise-wide strategy and fully embedded throughout the business
ESG considerations not a fundamental part of strategic planning Organization has a general understanding of material issues but lacks prioritization ESG is seen as a strategic differentiator

In most cases, companies in the Novice category are still in the early stages of understanding broader ESG implications to the organization and recognizing the initial steps to integrate them into operations. A key focus in this stage will be on building awareness among teams and leadership, establishing the “why” behind the need for ESG integration.

Supporters have moved past the introductory phase of ESG and are now starting to align their business operations with broader sustainability goals. They will have a clear ESG strategy that articulates specific, measurable, and targeted goals, and a general understanding of material issues.  However, there is a need to prioritize programs and goals so that Supporters can really capitalize on opportunities to create value for their organization, such as attracting top talent or reducing costs through energy efficiencies.

Gamechangers have ESG visions that are a key driving force and integrated into their overall enterprise mission statements. Their strategy is visionary, anticipating future trends, challenges, and opportunities, and they have full, enterprise-wide alignment of ESG goals and objectives. At this stage, the roadmap is not a guide, but a dynamic tool that constantly evolves and adapts based on reviews of ESG goals and stakeholder expectations. Because Gamechangers view ESG as a key strategic differentiator within their respective industry sectors, they pioneer new ESG practices.

Novice stage: Getting out of the starting block

Companies in the Novice stage should begin by understanding what ESG principles entail, and how they are relevant to their specific industry and business operations. As an initial step, organizations can begin by gauging their current state of ESG awareness and practices, and allocating resources to educating and training staff about ESG fundamentals. This stage is about initiating conversations and laying the groundwork for a deeper commitment to sustainable business practices. This, in turn, allows organizations to better develop and hone their ESG vision and related goals. While some organizations may have initial ESG goals developed but not yet realized, others might have none in place at all. Those insights can be leveraged to set expectations and begin developing an ESG roadmap.

Supporter stage: Unify strategies

A cornerstone of the Supporter phase is conducting a materiality assessment to identify and prioritize the ESG issues that are most important to the organization’s business and stakeholders. This helps ensure that resources and efforts are channeled toward areas with the greatest potential impact. To best monitor ESG performance, it is important to create specific ESG goals, metrics, and KPIs for each of the material topics. Then, armed with these insights, refine the ESG strategy to align with both business objectives and stakeholder expectations, and communicate the strategy throughout the entire organization and to stakeholders. This process helps keep the ESG strategy tied to the overall mission of the enterprise.

Supporters are usually already ingraining ESG initiatives effectively throughout their organizations, albeit in bits and pieces. For example, efforts may still be siloed and limited to individual business units. To reach the next level, they will need to enact more wide-reaching, cross-organizational communication and collaboration.

Finally, a Supporter may still be thinking about ESG as a set of discrete, separate initiatives, such as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) programs or environmental sustainability plans. They can take a step further by looking for the broader picture of how to truly embed ESG into the company’s overall strategy. For example, a company might assume that they have “checked the box” on ESG because they recycle and reduce waste on a day-to-day basis. While those practices are important, they do not encompass the broader, more comprehensive aspects of ESG, which also includes social responsibility and governance. On the other hand, a manufacturer that rolls out its own program to receive end-of-life products and then reuse or dispose of them in an environmentally conscious manner is truly embedding ESG into its business strategy. This not only demonstrates environmental consciousness, but also shows foresight, ability to reduce costs, and a deeper commitment to sustainable practices.

Gamechanger stage: All hands on ESG

Unlike Novices and Supporters, which likely have senior leaders or boards setting their ESG vision, Gamechangers have their ESG strategies embedded in every facet of the organization. They have also become pioneers of sustainable innovation. Collaborative efforts with all stakeholders, as well as a willingness to invest in groundbreaking solutions, are what really sets Gamechangers apart and allows them to drive ESG across all areas of their enterprise. It’s about crafting a blueprint for the future, where ESG considerations drive business decisions and shape organizational culture.

In summary: Level up by putting measurable goals in place

In the journey of ESG maturity, both Novices and Supporters have pathways to improvement.

Novices that want to level up in the ESG strategy and roadmap area should start by looking at their stakeholders. Identify those whose opinions are most valuable to the organization (e.g., customers, employees, suppliers, investors), and engage them early. They can offer invaluable insights, shaping a preliminary roadmap to achieving short-term wins.

Supporters should delve deeper by conducting a materiality assessment to prioritize ESG topics based on what is most important to those specific stakeholders and their business. They should develop formal policies around the elevated issues, and identify the key performance indicators or metrics that will help measure the company’s progress in each of them. For example, if key issues are identified among employees, consider investing in training or employee engagement activities that would improve employee satisfaction, and use multiple employee surveys over time to measure satisfaction and adjust plans as needed.

The Gamechanger level crafts roadmaps that are both agile and ambitious, pushing boundaries and constantly evolving. To reach this level, set specific, measurable targets like, “In one year, we want to reduce emissions by 20% in x locations by implementing x changes,” or “In one year, we want to see our employee satisfaction score go up from 25% to 50%.” Take care to set these types of quantifiable targets, and then create tangible roadmaps to achieve those specific goals. These goals will need to be refined and updated as priorities change.

These concrete strategies are important because they help set companies apart from others that are releasing statements or touting initiatives around ESG, but not truly “walking the walk” toward meaningful impact. Companies that don’t set a clear strategy and roadmap may be accused of “greenwashing” – i.e., using marketing tactics to persuade the public that their products, operations, and policies are environmentally friendly, when in reality they are not.

Ultimately, for companies that don’t take the proper steps to develop comprehensive, well-supported ESG strategies and then embed them into their overall business strategy, it will be difficult to achieve true progress. Thorough, well-thought strategies are critical to realizing the many ESG-related benefits that Supporters and Gamechangers are already reporting.

A proven, integrated ESG methodology

Whether you are taking the first steps on your ESG journey or your existing program needs an overhaul, CohnReznick can help. Using a proven, integrated methodology that combines our own ESG experience with industry insights, we will help you effectively advance your ESG initiative at each step of its lifecycle.

Our four-phase approach is built on value creation and impact throughout the journey, and includes:

  • Phase 1: Assess ESG current state, identify ESG priorities
  • Phase 2: Design ESG strategy, roadmap, and KPIs
  • Phase 3: Implement ESG initiatives with governance, technology, and training
  • Phase 4: Validate process and data and report progress against KPIs

With a 35-year track record in community investment and shaping governance strategy, CohnReznick tailors ESG programs to meet industry-specific stakeholder requirements. Using a process rooted in advanced data analytics and exclusive primary research, we leverage a cross-functional team that delivers seamless execution and enables fast, integrated results for companies of all sizes and across all industry sectors.


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Jenny Brusgul

Sustainability Advisory Practice Leader

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This has been prepared for information purposes and general guidance only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. You should not act upon the information contained in this publication without obtaining specific professional advice. No representation or warranty (express or implied) is made as to the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this publication, and CohnReznick LLP, its partners, employees and agents accept no liability, and disclaim all responsibility, for the consequences of you or anyone else acting, or refraining to act, in reliance on the information contained in this publication or for any decision based on it.