Berkeley Law’s New ESG University Executive Education Course

Links to Berkeley Law Voices Carry podcast episode

In this episode, host Gwyneth Shaw talks with Berkeley Center for Law and Business (BCLB) Executive Director Angeli Patel ’20, the lead instructor for ESG University, a new self-paced online program in Berkeley Law’s growing Executive Education offerings. 

This new certificate program and community is for individuals and organizations seeking to integrate proven ESG — which stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance — strategies and stakeholder theory considerations into business and investment practices.

ESG University has two tracks: A 30-hour course for general practitioners and an 8-hour class for corporate board directors and C-suite executives. Click here to find out more and register.


“Berkeley Law Voices Carry” is a podcast hosted by Gwyneth Shaw about how the school’s faculty, students, and staff are making an impact — in California, across the country, and around the world — through pathbreaking scholarship, hands-on legal training, and advocacy. 


Production by Yellow Armadillo Studios. 

Episode Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] GWYNETH SHAW: Hi, listeners. I’m Gwyneth Shaw. And this is Berkeley Law Voices Carry, a podcast about how our faculty, students, and staff are making an impact through pathbreaking scholarship, hands-on legal training, and advocacy.

My guess for the episode is Angeli Patel, a Berkeley Law alum and the executive director of our Berkeley Center for Law and Business. We call it BCLB around here. She’s the lead instructor for ESG University, a new self-paced online program in Berkeley Law’s growing executive education offerings.

On April 29, Angeli will launch the first cohort of the certificate program and community for individuals and organizations seeking to integrate proven ESG, which stands for environmental social and governance strategies and stakeholder theory considerations into business and investment practices. ESG University has two tracks, a 30-hour course for general practitioners and an 8-hour class for corporate board directors and C-suite executives. There’s a link to register in the show notes. Welcome, Angeli. And thanks for being here.

ANGELI PATEL: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.

GWYNETH SHAW: First off, can you explain what ESG means in the corporate world? Why has it become controversial in some circles?

ANGELI PATEL: That’s a loaded question, but I will try to answer that. ESG is what you described– environmental, social, and governance. And this terminology, this three-letter phrase actually came from a gathering at the UN, many, many years ago as a way to inspire investors to start thinking about environmental, social, and governance risks that they may be seeing in the assets that they invest in. And so ESG initially became a tool for investors to measure some of these risks and opportunities.

Over the past, I would say, seven or so years, ESG has transformed a lot as a terminology and the way it’s used. Part of this is because many cultural and environmental events have occurred in the past five to seven years. We’re talking about the global pandemic. We’re talking about the now mainstream awareness of climate change and the mainstream awareness of social inequality in the US, in Europe, and a lot of Western countries.

And so ESG, an existing terminology used in the investor community as a way to measure risk and opportunities, became kind of the terminology used for the broader role that corporations play in society that’s not necessarily directly tied to their business. And I think a lot of confusion has been caused as a result of this and what ESG really means. But at its core, ESG metrics that were used by investor communities now, I think, it signals a lot more than that

GWYNETH SHAW: I mean, I would love a little bit more explanation because I feel like people who aren’t familiar with it and hear about it and maybe more of the political world than the corporate world might have a very different understanding than what you just outlined.

ANGELI PATEL: No, it’s true. And I want to say the mainstream understanding of ESG as it is used in media or by activists and whatever spectrum of the political spectrum you can think of, ESG is seen as a political stance taken by companies, if I had to be that, I guess, simplistic about it. For some, ESG is a way that companies use something like climate change or social inequality or employee relationships to make more money and to make more– to make their brands look better. So a bit of a marketing tool, that’s one of the larger criticisms of doing ESG-related work altogether.

Another way folks see ESG is companies stepping into the realm of regulators and government and social actors and essentially using their outsized power to prescribe viewpoints that are held by CEOs or large-scale investors to folks that perhaps may not agree with the approaches or the political views that some of these CEOs may have. Others think of ESG as, quote unquote, “virtue signaling” or showing that they’re better than thou. And in fact, when you look into what each of these companies are doing there, you often find flaws.

Perhaps there are some externalities that are created through their business activities that may not match up to the marketing. Then there’s a whole world of folks who believe that ESG has become a smokescreen for companies to say they’re doing the work, but they’re not actually doing the work of environmental, social, and governance risk and opportunity adaptation. So that’s the spectrum I would say, like I said, in a very simplistic manner because within each of these camps, you can find a lot more to dig into.

GWYNETH SHAW: So, why launch ESG University now? This isn’t the first course of its kind through Berkeley Law’s Executive Education program. What are you building on with this new course?

ANGELI PATEL: No, that’s a great question. Our first course sustainable capitalism ESG that was administered through Berkeley Law Executive Education, we’re building on that one. That was created by Professor Amelia Miazad, who is the founder of the Berkeley Business and Society Institute that’s part of the Berkeley Center for Law and Business. And the work that Professor Miazad was doing essentially– and I might be biased because I just found it very inspiring is essentially raising initial awareness of this idea that the purpose of corporations is changing.

And so the first course really airs and brings to light some of these movements in the initial conversation around ESG and corporate purpose. One of the things I love about sustainable capitalism and ESG is it’s often the first touchpoint that many folks who aren’t plugged into this work have. And that course did an incredible job setting the foundations from a legal standpoint, from a business theory standpoint, as well as bringing in some of the leaders who are shaping regulation, business norms.

And this current course that we’ve launched, that builds on all of that foundation and brings it to today. And our goal is to not just bring it to today but to create concrete learnings that may result and have pay off for executives and for companies that they work for for the long term. And so this new course essentially brings it into practice.

You have to realize that by the time sustainable capitalism and ESG– the original course– was created, ESG, sustainability, those conversations were so new. Companies had no idea how to think about it, law firms, consulting firms, anyone. All folks knew were stuff is happening. We’ve got to jump on it somehow. And it was in that environment where sustainable capitalism and ESG really brought some structure.

Our goal now is to take that structure and turn it into practice. How do you put those learnings into your organization? How do you build it into your governance? And the theory goes is that our course– and we call it ESG University, but we also call it ESG University sustainable capitalism and practice and sustainable capitalism for directors.

And the goal there is that ESG is a part of a larger ecosystem. It’s part of a larger movement here. It’s not just companies are changing and they’re thinking about environment and social stuff.

That is barely the beginning of this. And so our course brings that context into play. After the past four or five years has shown us what has happened in the industry, this course attempts to bring that to light and bring that into practice.

GWYNETH SHAW: So you’ve sort of answered this question already a little bit, but why should a practitioner or executive want to take this course? What are some of the things that they’re going to get out of this course that, like you said, is going to help benefit and enrich their practice in this arena?

ANGELI PATEL: A lot of executives, a lot of directors, their day-to-day job is not yet about sustainability. Does that mean. It won’t be? Does that mean that they’ll never touch this topic? I don’t actually think so.

I think it’s going to become everybody’s business to know how to build resilient organizations. It’s going to be everybody’s job at some point in the future, maybe even now in particular industries to really think about cross-functional resilience, to think about the long-term goals and objectives of their business strategy and how they fit into the larger picture of basically how they’re part of an economy that’s changing and transitioning into a new world of technologies, a new world of scarcity, of competition. And so what practitioners have to gain from this course is a systems-level understanding of their role, a systems-level understanding of what’s happening in sustainability, and why that actually affects things like marketing, why it affects things like supply chain, why that affects operations and how you think about hiring.

We try to bring out learnings that are relevant to anyone at any level of a company because this matters. Companies that are going to be operating in a world of AI or that are going to be operating in a world where renewables and non-renewable sources are no longer available will need to know how to adapt themselves, their roles, their education to meet the new market where it’s at. I think that’s why this course really matters.

I’ve become such a nerd about this stuff. But essentially, we’re in the middle of an economic transition from a global standpoint. And if we’re not thinking about these things, we’re missing a major opportunity for innovation and leadership.

GWYNETH SHAW: And so give me an example of one particular takeaway point or one thing that you are thinking as you’re getting ready to start this first cohort that you really want someone who’s coming into this course to take away from it.

ANGELI PATEL: That’s a tough one because I want them to take away everything we’ve got in the course. I will say so much of ESG and sustainability from a corporate standpoint is about corporate resilience. It’s about making money for the long term in a way that keeps the ecosystem in which that business is doing business alive. We are now at a juncture where business as usual will harm that ecosystem that will in turn harm the company itself.

And because companies are individual actors in a larger system, it is much harder to coordinate without an active regulatory government to tell them or to curtail some of these externalities. And so one of the takeaways I hope we can get out of this is that each individual and organization must start asking the question, how are we going to be a resilient company that isn’t just going to last till an IPO, that isn’t just going to get acquired and we’re never going to think about it again? The goal is to have each individual person think about, what is it that I’m doing today to make this company be a longer term thinker and a longer term value creator for society?

GWYNETH SHAW: This course is a self-guided online course as are a lot of our executive ed offerings. But there are live components that are a little different than maybe some other courses. Can you talk a little bit about those and what you hope students will be able to get out one?

ANGELI PATEL: One of the nice parts about the sustainable capitalism and ESG course, the first version as well as this new version that we’ve created is so much of sustainability and ESG is evolving right now that it is impossible to create a textbook around this because it’s changing all the time. There aren’t that many solid regulations. And so what ends up becoming your textbook or your frame of reference is actually your peer group and who you’re around.

One of the things that we do is we bring a lot of current GCs, current leaders, founders, leaders of nonprofits, academics, anyone who’s leading on the ESG front, and the sustainability front we bring them into live sessions to educate and create community and ask questions for our students. And we also really dive into practical and day-to-day examples of what’s happening real time. You’ll often find us reading the latest scathing article on something that happened on Bloomberg or something

And we’ll actually ask questions. We’ll say, all right, how do we think about this? Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of this crisis. What would we have done differently? What does this course tell us to do in situations like this?

How do you not get into crises? Say, your supply chain got disrupted by a drought somewhere in another part of the world. How could you have seen that coming? What is your response as an individual in that situation? What metrics do you need in place?

We dive into this stuff together. Of course, the course is there as a place to have concrete and solid places to reference. But it’s those live sessions that bring these learning to the present moment and have peers from various departments in a company. I mean, we’re a law school, but you’d be surprised how many non-lawyers also are part of these courses. And so it really is a rich community that gets very, very passionately plugged into some of this work we do.

GWYNETH SHAW: I know this area was of particular interest for you and was your area of practice before you came back to BCLB. Where do you think ESG is going in the next few years? I take your point that it’s changing moment by moment even now. But what do you think the future is for this? And how do you see BCLB and Berkeley Law Executive Education and this course or a future course kind of evolving along with it?

ANGELI PATEL: 100%, I think, it’s going towards measurement and leadership. ESG has created the awareness that there are a lot of risks and opportunities that climate change and social inequality present. I think the next phase here is, how do we create performance metrics? How do we create a way to measure those risks and opportunities? How do we put numbers to this stuff so that it is measured and therefore it is implemented or changed?

And so I think that the next phase in this journey towards a sustainable capitalism is the ability to measure and implement into governance and into business strategy the goals of reducing externalities and tapping into the opportunities presented by crisis. We use case study method as a way to exemplify how companies have done this on their own volition using their own innovative tools and metrics. We highlight examples of companies that actually come up with their product-specific numbers to measure very, very abstract outcomes. And as a result of that measurement, they’re actually able to see improvement on things that are otherwise just theoretical problems.

And so we’re starting to see that there’s an opportunity here for sustainability to evolve into a bit more measured and structured conversation. As regulation comes along, climate rules by the SEC, Europe’s multiple disclosure rules that have come out in the years, those things already provide some metrics that companies will need to take on. But then there’s an added piece, which is going beyond the floor that regulation creates and that being the innovative key to not simply surviving for the long term, but to actually be able to create value and be a company that is able to meet the moment for over 100 years.

That’s part of the S&P 500 for longer than 20 years. That actually becomes the blue chip investment. That’s the next phase, I believe, of sustainability for companies.

GWYNETH SHAW: Who’s been doing this well? You mentioned use case studies. I don’t want you to give away too much of your content, but are a couple of examples you could give of companies that have gone through this process, you’re talking about and made themselves more resilient and sustainable because I think those terms are much easier for the layperson to relate to than the ESG moniker?

ANGELI PATEL: Yeah. And we do. We liberally use the word resilient and durable even. I do not want to give away too much of the content, but I will give an example or two.

We talk about Patagonia a lot. Here’s a company that has found a way to clean up the supply chain issues that it once experienced and really not just clean it up, but innovate and tap into new market opportunities that came from this act of, oh, goodness, we have to find a way to have less water consumptive supply chains or less human rights abusing supply chains. And instead, they found that they could actually create an entirely new value chain.

We talk about Schneider Electric. You wouldn’t even put at the top of your list as a company to think about when it comes to sustainability, but here’s a company that’s been around for over 100 years that started in the steel industry, maybe even the coal industry– I can’t exactly remember the origins– and is now a internet of things company. How does an organization do that? I say that we really dive into how Schneider Electric achieved that durability and agility for as a European company that saw an entire war take place and has still emerged as a profitable entity to this day.

And so there’s a lot of companies like that we highlight throughout the course. A lot of them are in the tech space, but we draw from food, agriculture, services, finance, name every– fashion. We try to go into a lot of different industries because there’s a thread here. And that thread is you’re not going to get to sustainability following everybody else. You’re going to get to sustainability by looking into your org’s strengths and weaknesses and working on those.

GWYNETH SHAW: And this is a place where Berkeley Law has really been a leader for years, as you mentioned, with Professor Miazad and then you coming in to do this. How important is it that a place like Berkeley Law, which is situated in one of the most innovative places in the country is leaning into this space to be there to help companies innovate and become more resilient?

ANGELI PATEL: I couldn’t imagine our center and Berkeley Law playing a more important role. Silicon Valley is a heart of, I would argue, the world’s innovation. And one of the goals that we have is ensuring that anyone who’s investing in these companies, anyone who is building these companies, and anyone who’s advising these companies understand that building for the long term and building sustainably is what’s going to get us beyond some of these difficult challenges of climate change or social inequality. We make this point very clear in the course, and it’s become very clear in the conversation around ESG that business is a key player in the solutions of the next generation, the solutions for climate change, social inequality, all the things that keep repeating. And that’s because business has the unique ability to scale. It has the ability to reach people and things at a pace and at a scale that is unmatched by any other sector of society.

And so what better cause to be thinking about than ensuring that those folks who are running these scalable organizations and products and services are building into them this goal of sustainability and durability and shared value creation. That’s why I think the work we’re doing is central. And it’s central to the fact that we’re here because this is where all of the innovation is really happening. And we want to make sure that sustainability is building from the beginning.

GWYNETH SHAW: Well, thanks so much, Angeli, for joining me. And as I said at the top of the episode, the first cohort of ESG University launches on April 29 online. If you want to know more about it or register or register for another of Berkeley Law Executive Education programs, check the show notes. Also if you want to find out a little bit more about BCLB and Angeli, I’ll put some links there, too, so that you can explore a lot of what Berkeley Law has to offer in the corporate and business law space.

And thanks to you, listeners, for tuning in. Be sure to subscribe to Voices Carry wherever you get your podcasts. Until next time, I’m Gwyneth Shaw.