VBSR Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) Learning Cohort

Event Details:
When: February 9, 2023 2:00 pm – June 15, 2023 4:00 pm
Location: Hybrid - The first 7 sessions will be virtual. The cohort will end with an in-person gathering.

Cost To Attend:
Nonmembers – $3,000
VBSR Members – $2,500

Registration is open

Event hosted by: Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility

Please note: the cost to participate is $2,500 for VBSR Members and $3,000 for Nonmembers. Registering now reserves your spot in the ESG Learning Cohort, which is limited to 20 organizations. Each organization may send up to 5 team members. You will be invoiced separately in January 2023.

Are you and your team ready to become your own ESG consultants?
The VBSR ESG Learning Cohort takes the guesswork out of reporting. ESG is among the fastest growing voluntary disclosures in history and has become the primary means of documenting how organizations “do well by doing good.”

2023 is the year to prepare for the rapid evolution of ESG reporting.
As SEC-proposed ESG disclosure regulations go into effect in major markets around the world in 2024, publicly traded (and adjacent) organizations will face increasing expectations and pressures regarding their ESG performance and reporting.

Join VBSR and Rho Impact for a deep dive into the challenges and opportunities of ESG!

  • Each organization may send a team of up to 5 people
  • Learn through concepting, planning, and work sessions
  • Meet 1:1 with the facilitator for a 60-minute consultation
  • Create an ESG strategic plan
  • Gain insight into the ESG journeys of your VT peers

What We’ll Do:
We will break down ESG concepts from acronyms and buzz words to understand what it is, what it means for your business, and what you can do to address the associated risks and opportunities.

This program is designed for organizations of all sizes and stages of growth, with a particular focus on companies with 50 to 1,000 FTE.

What You’ll Gain:
With the support of experts and the latest research and resources, you will gain:

  • An understanding of what ESG is, what it means for your company, and what you can do about it.
  • Guidance on addressing the expectations and ESG procurement requirements facing suppliers of public and name-brand companies.
  • Expert consultation and guidance in defining your ESG goals, aligning with stakeholder needs, and developing an action plan to address shared objectives.
  • A toolkit of ESG reporting best practices, including a breakdown of major disclosure standards and approaches for data-driven storytelling and stakeholder communications.
  • A community of practice that creates both support for the individuals participating and momentum for our collective effort toward better understanding (and transparency) of the consequences of business operations.

Program Schedule

Sessions 1-7 (virtual) – February 9th, February 23rd, March 9th, March 23rd, April 13th, April 27th, May 25th from 2:00 – 4:00 PM
Session 8 (in-person) – June 15th from 2:00 – 4:00 PM


Session 1 – Intro to ESG

This session will provide a foundation for the rest of the program, providing a broad overview of fundamental concepts such as:

  • What is ESG, what are ESG issues, and why is ESG the new normal of business
  • History and evolution of ESG
  • ESG regulatory pressures, stakeholder expectations, and business conditions
  • The ESG Value Proposition for each stage of business growth
  • How ESG concepts relate to operational decisions from “day one”
  • How ESG influence investor engagement and customer acquisition
  • How ESG creates operational, financial, and strategic opportunities

Session 2 – Stakeholder Management & Value Creation

This session will explore the concept of stakeholder capitalism and value creation, providing strategies and tactics for addressing expectations and aligning to address joint objectives. This session will address topics such as:

  • Stakeholder expectations for corporate ESG performance: Investors, employees, partners & customers
  • Stakeholder engagement objectives, strategies, and tactics
  • Stakeholder value creation and collective action
  • Alignment and integration of ESG objectives, stakeholder expectations, and business priorities

Session 3 – ESG in Action – Public Markets & Private Companies

This session will compare and contrast the ESG expectations and pressures facing both public and private companies, including addressing topics such as:

  • Business conditions, regulatory pressures, and corporate implications
  • ESG expectations and pressures on public companies vs. private companies
  • Best practices for addressing expectations and pressures to both public and private companies

Session 4 – Beginning Your ESG Journey

This session will guide participants through the first key steps in developing an enterprise ESG strategy, which include conducting a materiality assessment and developing enterprise ESG policies. This session will include the following activities:

  • Conducting a materiality assessment to help determine which issues present risks and opportunities to the business and its stakeholders
  • Developing enterprise ESG policies to communicate your company’s position on and approach to addressing identified material issues

Session 5 – Developing Your ESG Roadmap

This session will guide participants through the fundamental steps of developing an ESG strategic plan, also known as an ESG Road Map. This session will include the following activities:

  • Conducting an “ESG Inventory” to determine the starting point, or “current state.”
  • Facilitating an ESG strategic planning session
  • Outlining the steps your company will take to address material issues and what metrics you will track and report progress on

Session 6 – Communicating Your ESG Performance

This session will guide participants through the key components of developing an ESG report and disclosing performance with stakeholders. This session will include the following activities:

  • Outlining key steps and best practices for communicating your ESG performance with confidence, clarity, and technical accuracy
  • The anatomy of a high-quality ESG report and key areas for inclusion
  • Review of relevant disclosure standards such as the Sustainable Accounting Standards Boards (SASB), Task Force for Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) and more
  • How to leverage this information for customer and investor acquisition

Session 7 – Sharing Reflections, Discussing Insights, and Answering Questions

This session will guide participants through a reflective learning process in which key reflections, insights, and questions for further discussion will be explored. This session will include the following:

  • Reflective session on key themes and insights derived from participants throughout the cohort
  • Discussion on applying those insights within the context of one’s own company
  • Q&A Session on any outstanding questions or follow-ups from prior discussions

Session 8 (In-person) – Final Presentations & Social Gathering


Meet Your Facilitator

Noah Miller (he/him)

Co-Founder – Head of ESG Advisory Services, Rho Impact

Noah is the Chief Strategist and Head of ESG Advisory Services at Rho Impact. With over a decade of ESG consulting experience, Noah has held multiple leadership roles including Senior Director for Summit Strategy Group’s ESG Consulting Services practice and serving as an ESG Director for multiple public and private companies.

A recognized thought-leader in the ESG space, Noah has been influential at building ESG capacity at the industry level, having led the curriculum development for multiple industry-specific ESG certification programs. Noah holds an MBA in Sustainable Innovation and a BA in Community Development & Applied Economics (CDAE) from the University of Vermont. Noah also holds an MS in Mediation & Applied Conflict Studies from Champlain College and served as a commander in the Israeli Army.

About Rho Impact

Rho Impact provides services and software that accelerate the adoption and implementation of ESG, sustainability, and impact programs around the world. With roots dating back to 2012, Rho Impact combines the art and science of impact planning, tracking, and reporting through purpose-built software tools and hands-on advisory services. Rho Impact partners with some of the world’s leading impact-focused organizations and contributes to a variety of open access tools, frameworks, and methodologies.

Relevant ESG education and capacity-building clients include the Corporate Finance InstituteGreen Building InitiativeRegennabis, the Prime Coalition for Catalytic Capital, and Tideline Impact Advisory.

Other clients and partners include investment groups like Eclipse Ventures, MaRS Innovation District, and Brinc, as well as companies like Mitsubishi, iSun, and Eat Just.


Questions about the ESG Learning Cohort? Please reach out to VBSR Education & Events Manager, Molly Barfuss, at mollyb@vbsr.org.

Interested in becoming a VBSR member? Learn more here.


Why We’re Participating:
Conversations with Members of the VBSR ESG Learning Cohort

VBSR: Why are you and other members of the Union Mutual team participating in the ESG Learning Cohort in 2023?

Anna Grearson: What attracted us to this program was its capacity to elevate our existing, employee-led ESG committee – how do we make it better? How do we further shape our program? But we also really liked the fact that we’re going to come out of it with a strategic plan and be able to leverage the expertise of Noah for that plan.

VBSR: You’re in a regulated industry and you’ve been thinking about – and working on – these issues for a while. Who do you think needs this kind of Cohort?

A.G.: Anybody who doesn’t think they need it, those are the people who need it! It isn’t as though we’re manufacturers; we don’t have to think about where our waste goes in the same way a manufacturer does. But, for example, we do rely heavily on investments, so making sure that those are as responsibly made as possible, that’s important. It is very much a “voting with your dollar” situation.

So, understanding regulations, having a great rating ­– it’s a big focus for us, obviously. But, honestly, even without those crucial industry needs, a huge part of our brand – and how we separate ourselves from our peers – is doing ESG better. We already are doing so much of it, but we want to do it better. Our employees really rally around it and it’s a huge part of our brand because it’s inherently a huge part of our culture.

So, maybe you don’t have an industry like ours paying attention to you in the same way. But you probably already have employees and communities looking to you for ESG leadership. You might not call it that yet, but community giving, environmental decisions, where you invest…that’s what it is. We have a story to tell and one of my big goals is to do a larger brand story which encompasses everything – environmental, social and governance in a cohesive whole. This will help us do that.

VBSR: What part of the Cohort are you most looking forward to?

A.G.: Sessions like these, really, are an example of why we enjoy being such an active member of VBSR. To be aligned with the same kinds of companies and then literally be in the same room as those companies that we want to learn from and partner with. Being able to be in the same room as somebody like a manufacturer that’s very different from us – and knowing we still have the same concerns.


VBSR: How did you and the organization gravitate toward ESG?

April Harkness: We’re new to ESG at the Co-op, but not the practices that it measures. We’re a triple bottom line business: we have always cared about people, planet, and profit as part of our model. But, in my role I started in board support and community engagement and over the years it’s evolved and become more focused on program management. I started looking at how I could redefine my role to more fully capture this, ramp it up and take it in a new, exciting, intentional direction.

So, I started looking around at what other good businesses do ­– what’s happening out there? What’s cutting edge? What are the front line best practices? What are the best-in-the-industry frameworks? We have all these great ideas and all this really cool stuff we already do – and want to do, need to do – but where do we even start in making it more cohesive? It can be sort of overwhelming to think about it all!

In this process, ESG started emerging as a really good framework for us to think about our business practices; to not only better capture what we’re already doing but to be more intentional, be more transparent, more accountable, and set a baseline and set some goals from.

VBSR: While ESG can’t be disconnected from regulatory compliance, that doesn’t seem to be what’s driving you, is it? 

A.H.: As a co-op, we’re not highly regulated. We are as a grocery store – we have food safety, we have liquor licensing, etc. – but we’re not like a bank that is highly regulated, so it isn’t a super high focus for us. It’s more about giving back to the community, which is something we’ve always done but now we are building clarity by asking “How are we doing it? Why are we doing it? Are we intentional about it? How can we do it better?”

VBSR: What are your expectations of the VBSR ESG Learning Cohort?

A.H.: I’m just super excited to engage with other people that are interested in and doing work with ESG – the beginning or the middle of the process, or just has knowledge to share about their process. I think it would be beneficial to create a network of people to stay in contact with about how things are going; a network to bounce questions, ideas, and projects off of in the future – create that professional network, learn from people, get inspired, get invigorated about ESG.

I’m really excited you guys are offering this opportunity. I’m excited to see the term “ESG” spoken more, come across my email more, pop up on the internet more. I think the more we talk about it, the more we put it out there, the more businesses will be doing it. The more we say the words, the more action and good things will come from it.


VBSR: What is your background in ESG, if any, and how do you see yourself applying it to your work?

Daphne Larkin: I had not heard the term “ESG” before learning about this opportunity! I knew it as “CSR” and I’m not an expert in it from past roles I’ve held, but CSR and sustainability practices were definitely part of our story in my previous workplace, so I have had some familiarity with it, but not a lot.

That value system – a focus on sustainability, on community – then really drew me to National Life Group. ESG is really interesting to me because it encompasses governance, which CSR really doesn’t; I think that makes ESG more holistic, more multidimensional, more useful, and hopefully can promote change.

One of my projects is our Annual Report, but we also want to revive our Corporate Social Responsibility Report. So, this ESG Learning Cohort is perfect work towards that effort. I’m hoping to learn about this whole world, what other people are doing; just get exposed to people who are immersed in it to expand my viewpoint on it, my way of thinking about it.

I’m curious about what I’ll notice when I tell our stories in our Reports, for starters. But also, becoming better educated about ESG will help me ask additional questions here that might be useful to us as a business.

VBSR: ESG is among the fastest growing voluntary disclosures in history and some organizations are adopting it to make sure they adhere to regulations, while others simply see it as a great way to document their good works. What camp do you fall in?

D.L.: Certainly, we’re in a very highly regulated industry, but we’re not publicly traded so we’re not directly subject to a lot of the regulations people think of when talking about ESG or CSR. So, it’s not really a matter of being directed to do these things – that’s not the impetus at all.

National Life has been focused on sustainable business practices and community service for a long time, some would say since we were founded in 1848 – the company was founded to serve middle America, specifically those who were underinsured. So, we do good for the sake of doing good and we’ve been doing that for a long time. This is in our DNA. It’s good business and it’s good for the community and it has nothing to do with regulations.

VBSR: What are you hoping to gain from these sessions with other VBSR members?

D.L.: I have not engaged with any other businesses yet around ESG, so I’m really curious to learn from other industries about what matters to them, how they’re doing it. I’m hoping to get creative ideas about maybe how we could be doing things better or learn about areas that we haven’t thought about – even find better ways to be talking about it. Because, ultimately that’s why I’m there: to really get my head in the game and answer “How do we talk about this?”

Doing that well can help us distinguish ourselves in the marketplace, yes, but expressing our commitments well is also how we can promote these values and help normalize them so that businesses aren’t just driven by regulations but that they’re inspired to do the right thing. It’s the responsibility of business to normalize these kinds of values driven practices so that more businesses do it.