Difference between ESG, CSR, and Sustainability3 min read

Difference between ESG, CSR, and Sustainability3 min read

We have already talked in a recent article about how and when the term ESG was born (The Story Behind The Term ESG).

But what is the difference between ESG, CSR, and Sustainability?


Let’s start with the term ESG. The acronym stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance.

With this term, we can refer to the three levels that make up sustainability in a broad sense (environment, social and corporate governance).

In general, by evaluating how much an organization pays attention to these factors, we can understand how sustainable it is.

But be careful. ESG is not synonymous with sustainability.

And it couldn’t also be used as a noun. For example, we can talk about ESG risks and ESG criteria. There is no “the ESG”.


If we wanted to simplify, we could say that CSR covers the “S” in ESG.
But this is not completely accurate, because CSR practices could also include initiatives attentive to the environmental needs of the community.

In general, however, the term was born as a response to the growing attention of companies towards their corporate responsibility that goes beyond profit.

CSR is an approach that allows organizations to implement a set of sustainability policies, actions, and behaviors in order to maximize profit while respecting the social and environmental needs of the community.


In the environmental and economic sciences, “Sustainability” is a condition of development capable of ensuring the satisfaction of the needs of the present generation without compromising the possibility of future generations realizing their own. Maintain a balance between consumed and restored resources.

The concept of sustainability was introduced during the first UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972.

However, only in 1987 the so-called Brundtland report clearly defined the objective of sustainable development.

And eventually, just after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) of 1992 in Rio de Janeiro (also known as the “Earth Summit”), it has become the new paradigm of development itself.

The concept of sustainability is now increasingly in the spotlight, especially for companies and businesses.

Transposed to the corporate context, the definition of a sustainable company can be expressed as follows: the commitment of a company to a responsible business model, highly attentive to the health of the planet but also to the social and economic well-being of people.

Make an impact on the community where we live and reduce our negative footprints on the planet.

So what?

CSR is used by an organization to communicate its purpose in addition to merely producing profits.

ESG defines the areas within which to identify a set of criteria useful to show the progress of an organization from an environmental, social, and governance point of view.

Sustainability is much more. Any action aimed at making the business a multiplier of value for all current and future stakeholders.

Working on ESG does not mean that a company is sustainable.

ESG could remain theoretical, while CSR and Sustainability are more practical areas.

For a company, embracing sustainability means deciding to proactively change to build a better future and generate shared prosperity.

Sustainability is a way of thinking and acting of a company that has decided to take responsibility for building a better future. Therefore, deciding to integrate environmental, social, governance, and economic best practices into its long-term strategy will lead an organization to achieve this ultimate goal.

Featured image by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Giuseppe Perrone

Author and initiator of TwentyNow. ESG Manager in a tech unicorn after a 10 year experience in a big4 consulting firm. Travel lover, (former) basketball player, (current) outdoor basketball fighter. I love also mountain biking and running. I had the idea of creating TwentyNow to bring out the latest ESG trends and sustainability initiatives on a global scale, implemented by companies or bring forward by individuals.