ESG and sustainability were formerly specialist terms only understood by activist investors, but a recent increase in attention to corporate social and environmental responsibility has propelled them to become mainstream terms. 

Although ESG and sustainability are sometimes used interchangeably, the two concepts are distinct even though they may have similar objectives. Environmental, social, and governance concerns of businesses are considered ESG. On the other hand, sustainability solely concerns a firm’s environmental policies.

ESG vs. Sustainability: Making the Distinction

When you’re investing in stocks, you’ll find that you’re going to see a distinct difference when you compare ESG vs. sustainability. ESG covers a broader spectrum of environmental, social, and governance factors. Investors consider a company’s performance as it relates to ESG factors.

Therefore, ESG investors may review environmental challenges such as greenhouse gas emissions, waste management, dependency on fossil fuels, and similar criteria. This ESG pillar is closely tied to environmental sustainability, which is why the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. 

Businesses that lessen their impact on the environment and transition to renewable energy sources may be able to cut operating costs and position themselves for long-term success. While the world will eventually run out of oil, renewable energy sources like sunlight and wind power are virtually limitless.

Social concerns center on how a company affects people, including its workers, clients, and community. Workplace safety, diversity, customer satisfaction, and other variables are some factors that ESG-conscious investors and businesses consider.

The leadership and organization of a firm are the focus of governance issues. This criterion takes into account, among other things, executive salaries, board composition, and business policy.

ESG vs. Sustainability: How Sustainability is Different


Sustainability is a blanket word that refers to all of a company’s attempts to build long-term stakeholder value through a business system devoted to improving the environment.. Therefore, any business that harms the air or water would not be included in an investor’s portfolio.

When discussing “green” and environmental improvements, “sustainability” often represents the shorthand that denotes environmental objectives and investments.

Despite occasionally appearing to overlap and having ambiguous meanings, ESG and sustainability are different. 

For example, ESG companies may meet environmental and sustainability standards but might not meet certain social criteria. Therefore, investors might choose to go with firms with a higher ESG score in this respect.

ESG metrics take ESG factors into account, as well as a company’s capacity to make money. Therefore, if you plan on taking a more ethical approach, you may shun ESG companies. 

Also, ESG is not clearly defined by the SEC, so you’ll need to base your investment decisions on how much value you place on sustainability and social responsibility and how you wish to meet your financial goals.

If you want to ensure a higher ESG score, it helps to choose an ETF that is both diversified and environmentally and socially sound. Make sure the management in the companies you choose listens to investors and places their concerns before theirs.

Final Thoughts about ESG vs. Sustainability

ESG and sustainability are crucial strategic factors for all types of firms worldwide. While an ecologically sustainable company would probably score well concerning its “E” rating on an ESG framework, ESG offers a wider indicator of the positive and negative factors of a fund’s ESG qualities.