Deep Dive: Beyond Returns: Unveiling ESG in VC

Max Fleitmann
Founder of VC Stack
Deep Dive: Beyond Returns: Unveiling ESG in VC
Uma Patel
VC Content Creator

This deep dive was initially published in our VC Stack newsletter. Make sure to subscribe here to not miss any future episodes.

What is ESG?

ESG refers to the environmental, social, and governance factors used to evaluate a company’s worth. These metrics were historically used alongside financial analysis with larger, publicly traded companies since they have significantly more data and bandwidth. However, as more LPs are requesting ESG in VC reports, funds are seeing the value in implementing best practices with their portfolio companies from the ground up. Recently we’ve seen VC funds incorporate an ESG framework into due diligence as well as in post-investment support.

While these engagement plans should be tailored to each portfolio company, some factors are increasingly important for both LPs, VCs, and consumers to see in emerging companies.

  • Environmental. The growing impact of climate change has pushed more companies to report greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and commit to lowering their carbon footprint.
  • Social. Advocating for diversity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace in an effort to create equality amongst historically underrepresented groups.
  • Governance. The presence of independent directors on the startup board has proven to bring both an impartial perspective and add value to the company.

With that being said, there are several ESG frameworks available including both third-party frameworks and guidance frameworks. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TFCD), and The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) are a few commonly implemented. In other cases, individual VC funds will set their benchmarks and build a framework that is fund specific.

What is driving the rise of ESG in VC reporting?

  • Generational Change. Gen-Z is known as the most socially conscious generation and that is certainly reflected in every aspect of their life from choosing an employer to making purchase decisions. A survey by DoSomething Strategic found that 76% of Gen-Z said they have purchased or would consider purchasing from a brand to show support for the issues that the company supported. Additionally, LinkedIn's Workforce Confidence report found 80% of Gen-Z employees want to work for companies that align with their values and interests.
  • Climate Action. Closely linked to Gen-Z’s push for climate urgency and growing scientific evidence, climate action has in many ways become top of mind for those building and investing in new ventures. It’s no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘need to have’ while we continue to see very real consequences play out in our environment.
  • Unfortunately, greenwashing has proven to be an issue with a 2022 report showing that 25 multinational companies that made a commitment to net zero by 2030 were in reality only geared toward reducing their emissions by 40% at most.
  • Company Scandals. Corporate scandals such as Google’s sexual harassment scandal in 2018 that ended in a $310 million settlement exposed major faults in the inner workings of well-established companies. At a startup level, Theranos is infamous for its poor governance and the corrupt culture that misled patients, doctors, and investors about the company's blood testing technology. The founder, Elizabeth Holmes, who now faces up to 11 years in jail raised $700 million with a $10 billion valuation at its peak.

Fraud, Setting Standards, and Emerging Tools

With the growing pressure of ESG reporting brings along the risk of misreporting and fraud. Especially with early-stage companies, ESG reporting can not only be time-consuming and expensive but may fall onto a team member with minimal experience. Not to mention, the fact that VC funds are still trying to establish a standardized system of incorporating ESG policies across the industry. The focus now is to build and adopt practices that can be systemically in place and ensure transparency when it comes to reporting to different audience members (e.g. employees, consumers, LPs) - until an industry-wide standard is set.

Moody Analytics
, a financial intelligence firm, said that “Companies with a weak record in managing environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks are more likely to be hit with scandals or controversies linked to their business conduct, which, in turn, leads to stock market losses.”

"ESG performance matters strongly for firms' value, with ESG events leading to large, negative, abnormal returns. This finding remains robust for firms of all sizes, and holds particularly for firms in the energy and natural resources, consumer products, finance, and construction sectors.”

There are several companies building products and services specifically around ESG reporting, check them out:

Advantages (and the Risk) of ESG Reporting for Startups

  • Recruit & Retain Talent. Employees of all ages are wanting to be a part of companies that hold themselves to high standards. Clearly championing a diverse and equal team, sustainable practices and transparency will filter talent that aligns with those values.
  • Access to Capital. As LPs demand ESG reports, startups with a strategy in place will be highly attractive to future investors. Especially with more academic evidence showing a positive correlation between ESG scores and the financial performances of businesses.
  • Appeal to Consumers. It's become increasingly common for consumers to care not only about the quality of a product or service but about the business behind it. Demonstrating a dedication to upholding strong ESG performance and sharing those benchmarks publicly will certainly be an advantage.

For startups, the major risk with ESG reporting is that it may pose a distraction. As mentioned, reporting can take up both time and money, which are limited resources for companies just beginning. As a VC fund, there are ways to help:

How to Help Startups with ESG Reporting?

  1. Establish a Fund Standard. Developing a fund standard with a set guide that startups can reference will simplify the reporting process. Doing so will attract startups focused on meeting similar development goals and add to the overall appeal of the fund.
  2. Prioritize ESG during the investment decision. Incorporating an ESG framework into the due diligence process is a smart idea to gain further clarity in your investment. It also preps your potential portfolio company in the metrics the fund will value long-term.
  3. Offer tools, training, and support. Providing access to reporting tools or templates as part of the firm's value add can help a startup save time and money. In addition, integrating data collection into already established processes can further streamline the work of both the startup and the fund.

VC Funds with ESG Policies

Kindred Capital

At Kindred, we invest in mission-driven pre-seed and seed founders. We invest early and work with our community of founders and advisers to help founders get further, and faster from the very beginning.

Mundi Ventures

Mundi Ventures is a global venture capital firm that invests in early and growth-stage technology ventures. We focus on insurtech/insurance-adjacent technology, fintech, enterprise tech, and new ventures built by (and serving) the global Spanish-speaking diaspora.


Balderton is Europe’s leading venture capital investor, focused exclusively on European-founded technology companies. We support companies from Seed to Exit with one of the largest and most experienced venture teams in Europe.

500 Global

500 Global is a venture capital firm that invests early in founders building fast-growing technology companies. We focus on markets where technology, innovation, and capital can unlock long-term value and drive economic growth.

Index Ventures

Index Ventures is a venture capital firm based in London, San Francisco, and Geneva, helping entrepreneurs turn bold ideas into transformative international businesses. We cover every investment stage, from the earliest seed through to explosive growth.

SFC Capital

SFC Capital is a leading early-stage investment firm providing capital and support to British startups. SFC has invested in over 300 disruptive businesses across different sectors including consumer goods, fintech, and hardware and robotics.

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