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Why Rajeev Peshawaria Advocates Shifting from ESG to ESL for Sustainable Business

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In the quest for a more promising tomorrow, simply adhering to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles may not suffice, according to Rajeev Peshawaria, CEO of Stewardship Asia Centre. Speaking at a riveting conference in Bangkok this week, Peshawaria argued that the decades-old ESG framework is showing its limitations despite its widespread adoption.

Peshawaria pointed out that many businesses hide behind the façade of greenwashing to sidestep scrutiny, while regulatory frameworks enforce just the bare minimum level of responsible behavior. “Regulations may minimize harm, but they do not maximize good,” he proclaimed, highlighting the fundamental flaw in the current system.

A troubling trend has emerged where businesses are exploiting challenges for profit rather than devising profitable solutions to these very challenges, Peshawaria noted. He proposed a paradigm shift from ESG to ESL—where “L” stands for “steward leadership.” This concept embodies an earnest commitment to forging a better future for stakeholders, society, and future generations.

“The solution lies in ‘doing well by doing good,'” Peshawaria asserted passionately. “Businesses have to make money and grow, but they need to do so by addressing the pressing issues that threaten humanity today: climate change, inequality, and cybercrimes. Only then will the future of our children be secure.”

Peshawaria spotlighted the Doi Tung Development Project under the Mae Fah Luang Foundation as a shining example of a value-driven enterprise. Initially aimed at shifting the northern region’s economy from opium production to sustainable agriculture, the project has grown into a profitable venture rooted in societal and environmental values.

This approach has undeniably contributed to the project’s long-term success. Peshawaria emphasized that addressing today’s existential challenges requires genuine dedication and innovative thinking that transcends mere legislation and extrinsic incentives.


  1. grower134 June 14, 2024

    I think switching from ESG to ESL is just another gimmick. Companies will always find ways to exploit these frameworks.

    • Samantha R. June 14, 2024

      I disagree. ESL focuses more on genuine leadership and commitment rather than just ticking boxes. It’s a step in the right direction.

      • Joe June 14, 2024

        But who decides what genuine leadership looks like? It sounds subjective and prone to greenwashing too.

  2. Larry Davis June 14, 2024

    Peshawaria makes a good point about regulations minimizing harm but not maximizing good. The current system lacks ambition.

    • eco_future June 14, 2024

      True, but at least regulations force companies to meet certain standards. Without them, it would be chaos.

      • Heather June 14, 2024

        Regulations alone aren’t enough. They need to be paired with genuine leadership, as Peshawaria suggests.

    • Larry Davis June 14, 2024

      That’s exactly my point. Regulations are necessary but not sufficient for deep, systemic change.

  3. Monica Tran June 14, 2024

    Why do we always have to create new acronyms like ESL? Isn’t it all the same at the end of the day?

    • Raj June 14, 2024

      Acronyms help clarify new ideas and draw attention to emerging approaches. Sometimes they’re necessary to shift how we think.

  4. Max88 June 14, 2024

    Peshawaria’s example of the Doi Tung Development Project is inspiring. It shows that businesses can indeed be profitable and responsible.

    • eco_warrior June 15, 2024

      Agreed! The Doi Tung project proves that sustainable, ethical business practices can lead to long-term success.

  5. Tom Baker June 15, 2024

    I’m skeptical about how scalable the ESL framework really is. It’s easy to point to one or two successful projects, but what about the vast majority of companies?

    • Clara M. June 15, 2024

      Scalability is indeed challenging, but every large movement started with small, impactful projects.

    • Tom Baker June 15, 2024

      You’re probably right, but convincing big corporations to change their mindset is another beast altogether.

    • Larry D June 15, 2024

      Perhaps the key is to incentivize them in a way that makes good stewardship align with their profit motives.

  6. Susie Q June 15, 2024

    The idea of maximizing good rather than just minimizing harm is refreshing. Finally, someone is talking sense!

  7. Jake B June 15, 2024

    ESG has been a buzzword for so long, and most companies just use it for marketing. ESL might be more authentic.

    • grower134 June 15, 2024

      But as soon as ESL becomes mainstream, won’t it face the same fate as ESG? Over time, it could just become another marketing tool.

  8. Patricia W. June 15, 2024

    It’s not about the acronym; it’s about the actions and commitments. Whether it’s ESG or ESL, the real focus should be on tangible outcomes.

    • Raj June 15, 2024

      Exactly! We need metrics to measure these tangible outcomes. Without data, it’s all just talk.

  9. Adam L June 15, 2024

    It’s good to see more emphasis on leadership. The top management needs to set the tone for genuine sustainability efforts.

  10. GreenThumb June 15, 2024

    I feel like these concepts are too academic. What we need is practical, straightforward policies that everyone can follow.

    • Kelly June 15, 2024

      While I understand the need for practical policies, complex problems often require nuanced solutions.

  11. Joan H June 15, 2024

    Why should businesses even be responsible for societal issues? Isn’t that the government’s job?

    • eco_future June 15, 2024

      Businesses are part of society, and they have the resources to drive significant change. They absolutely have a role to play.

    • Joan H June 15, 2024

      True, but their main job is to make money. Expecting them to solve societal issues feels unrealistic.

    • Samantha R. June 15, 2024

      It’s not about solving everything. It’s about making sure their operations don’t exacerbate problems and, where possible, contribute positively.

  12. Liam P June 15, 2024

    The real challenge will be getting corporate leaders who have been trained in a profit-first paradigm to embrace ESL. It’s a massive cultural shift.

    • Dr. Ellis June 15, 2024

      Cultural shifts in business have happened before. It might take time and effort, but it’s certainly possible.

  13. Alex T June 15, 2024

    The focus on stewardship leadership is inspiring. We need more leaders who think about the long-term impact.

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