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ESG: The pivotal business practice you should be implementing right now

Environmental, social, and governance – collectively and colloquially known as ‘ESG’ – has become a phrase commonly tossed around by business managers and the sustainability conscious. However, this framework actually has applications that bleed into almost every organisation, and presents an opportunity for companies to take a hard look at their practices through a future-focused lens.

Championing this framework across the agricultural industry and beyond are Natalie Hick and Michelle Peden, the Bondies behind Natural Capital Co. Pty Ltd. – and the course instructors for Bond University’s all-new ESG microcredentials. Natalie and Michelle met at Bond whilst both studying the Executive Master of Business Administration (MBA) (CRICOS 108627A). Since then, Natalie and Michelle forged ahead with the business, which has scaled quickly since its inception and now offers specialised ESG consultancy to businesses around Australia. 

Together, Natalie and Michelle possess an extensive background in ESG through their roles at Natural Capital Co., where Natalie is Founder and CEO, and Michelle is the Chief Operations and Sustainability Officer. 

We spoke to Natalie and Michelle to unpack the pivotal role of ESG in the future of work, and to learn more about their suite of microcredentials, which are available now.

Natalie Hick and Michelle Peden work at an outside table. They are looking at each other and smiling.
Natalie Hick (left) and Michelle Peden, the creators of Bond's all-new ESG and sustainability microcredentials

What is ESG, and why do businesses need ESG frameworks? 

ESG refers to a set of criteria designed to evaluate a company’s governance practices and capacity to manage the environmental and social impacts of their operations. As social and environmental obligations continue to grow, these frameworks encompass everything from emissions management and recycling to labour practices, workplace health and safety, and fair wages, and according to Natalie and Michelle, implementation is crucial in every industry.

Natalie Hick
Natalie Hick

“ESG should be a part of everyday business, and it’s currently not,” Natalie says. “Although it’ll soon be mandated at a government level, some businesses are now voluntarily introducing it to stay ahead of the curve.

“ESG is a critical part of looking after both a business and its people. We’re a lot more conscious of the impact we’re having on the environment and on our staff, and the impact that can then have on the day-to-day running of a value and supply chain. 

“So, by integrating ESG into regular operations and the reporting cycle, we can use it to influence business strategy and make informed decisions going forward, ones that can have positive outcomes for many aspects of a company,” she says.

These ripple effects are extensive, and are particularly impactful on the growing challenge of hiring and retaining quality staff. 

“Amongst young people in particular, there’s a growing sense of social responsibility. Many candidates won’t work at a company that’s pumping out tonnes of emissions each year, which makes transparent and effective ESG reporting great leverage from a recruitment standpoint,” Natalie says.

Natalie also notes that the significance of ESG is driven by its track record. “Companies with high values in sustainability, in areas such as waste management and energy efficiencies, tend to outperform conventional operations,” she says.

Natalie Hick stands between crops on a farm
Natalie Hick

How is Natural Capital Co. leading the charge in ESG? 

It’s safe to say that Natalie, Michelle, and the Natural Capital Co. team are ‘early adopters’ of ESG, cutting their teeth in the industry working with some of the most complex supply chains in Australia. As their business began to grow, ESG presented itself as a “natural evolution or progression of a service that [Natural Capital Co.] needed to offer its clients,” according to Natalie.

“At Natural Capital Co., our core business is in sustainability. We started out working with agricultural clients, doing carbon, natural capital, and biodiversity project management and development… on behalf of farmers. 

“Now we also aspire to educate people in the ESG sustainability space. We go into companies and assess their assets and goals, their emissions intensity, and what they want to achieve, and then we work on a strategy for transformational change through an ESG framework,” she says.

“Simply put, at Natural Capital Co. we help people to understand what ESG actually is and how that can fit into their business and business strategy. This is really the heart of what we do.” 

How can businesses build ESG skills? 

Michelle suggests that until recently, most businesses have been in the dark about the significance – and the mechanics – of embedding ESG into their daily operations. 

Michelle Peden
Michelle Peden

“There’s so little information around about ESG – people understand the term, but they don’t realise what frameworks exist and how they even start to implement them,” she says. 

In their efforts to raise awareness and improve understanding of ESG amongst their own company and clients, Natalie and Michelle made two important discoveries: ESG was only being implemented in a small handful of businesses, and it was practically impossible to upskill in ESG through a course in Australia.

So, they took the reins and created their own ESG microcredentials in collaboration with Bond University. 

“The courses have been designed as a series of six and are all delivered online. They range from introductory level to more specialised topics and are suitable for anyone within any organisation that is looking to implement ESG, from front office staff to managers, executives, and C-suite leaders,” Natalie says. 

“We have also designed an agriculture-specific microcredential, as we recognise that this industry has a major role to play in reversing climate change, and has a unique set of ESG requirements.” 

These Australian-first courses offer businesses a way to get workers across the spectrum of roles up to speed on ESG, and to empower them to better understand, implement, and report on these new practices.

“People are seeking ESG skills but they don’t know how to get them. They’re necessary skills in this day and age, and will not only benefit businesses, but workers as well, by ensuring they can stay competitive in the evolving careers landscape,” Natalie says. 

“There’s also a lot of research out there that shows businesses with a really strong ESG proposition perform better. This is why the course has been designed the way it has – it gives people a sense of how ESG actually works and helps to prove the return on investment of these practices from the very first module.

ESG microcredential course 1

What does the future of ESG look like? 

Both Natalie and Michelle emphasise just how all-encompassing ESG will become over the next decade. 

“In five years’ time, ESG will be embedded into every business,” Natalie suggests. “In addition to that, I suspect every business will have a sustainability action plan or strategic plan, complete with reporting on their company’s emissions and social impact,” she says.

The takeaway? The implementation of ESG is integral to future success for businesses that run the gamut of sectors – and is something that should be embraced by all members of an organisation. 

“Everyone can benefit from having an understanding of environmental, social, and governance, and working toward the same goals.” 

Take your skills to new heights with ESG

Receive a thorough grounding in ESG and the impacts it can have on our society, businesses, and environment with our series of self-paced, online microcredentials, in partnership with Natural Capital Co. 


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