At a moment of unprecedented attention, investment and opportunity for the emerging field of ESG, leaders are asking: Who is best preparing their organization for the society of the future? Who is innovating today to meet decades-long environmental and social goals?

Who is setting standards that catalyze their industry’s change for the better? Who is defining what bold and aspirational look like — and how best to advance that work in practice?

Enter NationSwell’s ESG Next, an exemplary group of investors, executives, authors, philanthropists, social sector leaders, academics, and field builders who are helping to shape business as a force for social and environmental progress, advancing — and even pioneering — the most forward-thinking and effective programs, initiatives, technologies, methodologies, practices, and approaches.

For this installment, NationSwell interviewed Tricia Winton, Partner and Global Head of ESG at Bain Capital, about why she thinks ESG isn’t going away anytime soon, the power of a private partnership model in advancing ESG work, and the importance of focusing on the upside while you navigate the risks and pitfalls.

Greg Behrman, Founder + CEO, NationSwell: Was there a defining experience or moment that drew you to this field?

Tricia Winton, Partner and Global Head of ESG, Bain Capital: It wasn’t just one moment. I’ve had the opportunity to be surrounded by leaders in our field and a firm like Bain Capital that believed that thriving businesses across a number of dimensions including governance, sustainability, organizational performance and culture generate higher returns as well as positive societal and environmental outcomes. I’m proud to say that Bain Capital has held this belief since its inception and before the term ESG came to fruition.  

I joined Bain Capital in the midst of the pandemic and saw firsthand the power of an organization that is sincere and engages and collaborates with a wide range of important stakeholders. I also saw our ambition to lead in this space. The goal was not to make flashy proclamations, but to drive genuine impact. You can feel that in the culture and in the work, which is very different from what I’ve seen anywhere else.

Behrman, NationSwell: What do you make of this moment in ESG? Where are we in its evolution, and how do you assess this moment?

Winton, Bain Capital: I have a long-term perspective on the evolution of the space, and I think broader socio-economic factors have only heightened the awareness of what’s expected of companies and individuals in facing some of society’s largest problems. The reality is we’re going to need more collective effort, not less.

Here’s the good news: We’re seeing progress every day. We’re seeing more and more employees who want to work at firms and companies that think long-term and holistically about their impact.  We know employees want it and we know investors want it. Ultimately, it’s a focus that is going to reward our industry and the broader business community. 

The more I see this progress, the more my conviction grows around the importance of this work. Of course, we need to address the risks our companies are facing — but it’s equally important to concertedly lean into the upside of ESG work and the lasting, positive impact that businesses can deliver. We can and must do so much more.

Behrman, NationSwell: Can you share how you and your team at Bain Capital approach ESG work in ways that are unique or exemplary?

Winton, Bain Capital:  Our full team really wanted to develop an ESG approach that has our fingerprint on it — distinctive, generative and ultimately our own. 

We’ve had four decades built on a consulting business transformation model that’s really unique in this space — and that really gives us a head start on producing authentic, exemplary work. Our goal is to invest and grow great companies, but also to do that in the right way with a very high integrity, respect for people and enthusiasm to create these businesses that thrive. Because of our consulting roots, we have the desire to work through tough problems. We’re trying to apply that same rigor and intensity to our ESG efforts, endeavoring to build out what we think is a distinctive approach to where our culture is in alignment with our values. 

That manifests throughout the five core ESG commitments we established, where we believe we can have meaningful, measurable impact over the long-term. It also manifests in the practical application of those commitments in our investments and portfolio companies, through examples like building our ESG leadership team with leaders from across our business units, organizing global teams to spot ESG trends and share learnings, and focusing on building good governance in our investments and portfolio companies because we believe that good governance is the umbrella through which ESG efforts get the right traction. We have an intentional approach there with a consistent set of practices that centers around ensuring that we are thinking about ESG outcomes with the same intensity that we have every other part of our investment thesis. 

Other examples include the convening of portfolio company leaders like our Chief Human Resources and Talent Officer monthly forums and annual summit to advance our approaches to human capital management.  In these forums, leaders review the latest strategies and tools to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion and share approaches to boost employee engagement and organizational health.

Finally, we prioritize broader stakeholder engagement with thought partners like NationSwell, Focusing Capital on Long Term (FCLT Global), Business for Social Responsibility and the Sustainable Markets Initiative to advance our sustainable investment practices, and Management Leaders for Tomorrow and the Directors Academy to really expand the pipeline of diverse talent coming to our firm and to our portfolio companies.

Those are the kinds of things we’re building out across our businesses. Soup to nuts, we think this is distinctive and differentiating.

Behrman, NationSwell: What are some key opportunities you see for Bain Capital? 

Winton, Bain Capital:  There’s so much that’s been said about how we need alignment, uniform actions, and clarity as an industry. All of that would be great. But for us, here and now, we’re really focused on how we can measure and drive year-on-year improvements. We continue to build out our measurement and reporting capabilities, centering the tangible outputs that help drive our progress. And when you hear people talk about the confusion and the challenges around data measurement, the momentum of what’s possible and those tangible outcomes get lost from the discussion.

We believe that a focus on tangible outcomes helps us act on priority topics, such as our efforts to reduce our environmental footprint and engage our portfolio companies to reduce carbon. We leverage our deeply collaborative approach, and support from expert advisors to ensure decarbonization efforts are practical and relevant for our companies.  

Behrman, NationSwell: To which of your leadership practices do you attribute your success?

Winton, Bain Capital: I embrace a deeply collaborative process and I’m fortunate that our firm and our ESG team really pride itself on that.  We work to understand different points of view. We believe firmly that more perspectives on a problem will yield a better outcome. I think we are trying to be bold and we have an ambitious vision, but we have this highly collaborative approach that I feel will help us build more effective programs and drive impact over time.

Behrman, NationSwell: Who are the leaders that inspire you in personal and professional ways?

Winton, Bain Capital:  I think one of the most inspiring people to me is Paul Farmer. I had the opportunity to meet Paul on many occasions and learn more about his fundamental belief about global health equity and how important it is to advocate for human health and justice globally. With his passing, the world really lost an incredible visionary.Bryan Stevenson’s work on racial justice in America has been a constant source of inspiration for me, and he is an incredible example of how you build lasting partnerships.

To learn more about how our ESG Next honorees are shaping business as a force for social and environmental good, visit the series hub. Bain Capital is a NationSwell Institutional Member. To learn more about membership in NationSwell’s community of leading social impact and sustainability practitioners, visit our site.