In recent years, the world has been challenged by a global pandemic, the need for social and racial justice, and the intensifying effects of climate change. During this time, the media and entertainment industry has been recognized as one of the most powerful forces influencing culture, social views, and societal outcomes.
In this interview, Jessica Thurston, Vice President, ESG Strategy at Paramount Global, one of the world's leading producers of premium entertainment content, speaks to ESG software solutions provider Greenstone about the strong influence of the media and entertainment industry and the significance of Paramount’s evolving ESG strategy.
What is your role at Paramount?
I am responsible for leading Paramount’s global Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategy. Paramount Global is a complex business, made up of well-known global brands – including CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Showtime, ViaCom, Miramax and Channel 5 – with a diverse audience. Although I am based in the US, my team’s role is inherently global.
I joined the company in 2019 (when we were Viacom and then ViacomCBS) and ESG was something we knew was important as we re-merged Viacom and CBS – and we were quite early in our strategy journey. So, for the past three years, my team and I have been building out an ESG strategy that is grounded in reliable data and what is material to our business. My day-to-day role is really about finding opportunities for efficiency, clarity, further environmental responsibility and what resources we need to take them forward.
What does ESG mean to Paramount?
Our ESG strategy is critical to our success as a company. We work to foster a better world for our employees, audiences, partners, and communities as Paramount. Paramount is popular, and it is our responsibility to measure and manage the ESG impacts we have as a global content powerhouse.
At Paramount, we pride ourselves for being a workplace centered on diversity, inclusion and belonging, with equal opportunities for access and advancement. Paramount has a legacy of delivering content that explores and celebrates diversity and inclusivity. We are constantly building on this legacy with programming that centers diverse voices while taking on the issues relevant to those communities.
On the environmental side, as a global media company, we are not a major emitter of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to some other industries. However, we cannot separate ourselves from the growing need for collective action. Our environmental strategy is focused on continuing to understand and mitigate environmental impacts across our company and value chain, and to use our content platforms to further raise awareness and inspire global action in response to the climate crisis.
What does Paramount’s ESG reporting journey look like so far?
We are relatively early in our journey of telling our ESG story; and started by publishing our first company-wide ESG report in 2019–2020. This included a materiality assessment – a comprehensive analysis of the topic areas that are most relevant to Paramount, according to key internal and external stakeholders.
In our second annual ESG report, we expanded upon our initial reporting and commitments, including the publishing of our in-development company-wide ESG goals across our three ESG priority areas: On-Screen Content and Social Impact, Workforce and Culture, and Sustainable Production and Operations.
Our latest and third ESG report (2021–2022) highlights how we’ve progressed on our ESG strategy and goals across the three focus areas. We’ve also provided updates on our workforce and environmental impact data, and a more detailed overview of our ESG governance practices.
We used external ESG reporting frameworks and guidance to influence the development of this report, including the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), and the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).
The effort to calculate carbon emissions across our global portfolio is a process we will continue to improve upon and manage. Over the last two years, through our partnership with Greenstone, we have advanced our reporting on carbon emissions in several areas.
We are committed to improving our data coverage and accuracy across all three scopes, including data from productions. However, where actual data is not available we worked in collaboration with Greenstone to calculate estimates using established third-party benchmarks. This year we were also able to launch a commuter survey to capture commuter emissions data for the first time and will continue to run this survey alongside Paramount’s annual Green Week.
You have reported to CDP for a number of years. What advice would you give to a company thinking of reporting for the first time?
Before coming to Paramount, I consulted for companies at every stage of the ESG and sustainability journey. Many companies just starting out in reporting often believe they need to have perfect answers before they can make a CDP submission. But really, CDP reporting is a tool – and it’s important to start wherever you are and establish a baseline for disclosure and evaluation. Many companies are still developing their climate change strategies and reporting to CDP is an important catalyst to help drive a company’s ongoing journey forward. Focusing on the topics that are material to the company is a good place to start. By demonstrating that you're engaging with the process, even with room for improvement, you can help strengthen your company’s reputation in sustainability. Transparency is key.
CDP also helps us figure out where to focus our reporting efforts. For example, when new questions are added by CDP, it helps us better understand the importance of certain areas, such as setting short-term or long-term targets or even newer metrics like those related to biodiversity.
I don’t mean to downplay the effort it takes to report against CDP and other key reporting frameworks – but the clarity into your own impact areas and progress gained from the process is essential.
How important is data and measurement in supporting your ESG strategy?
We’re a team driven by the data. It helps us stay focused on what is material and relevant for our company while also helping us ensure that we’re using our own internal resources appropriately – focusing on what matters most. It’s crucial for us as the ESG team to have access to reliable and consistent data to be able to report performance and set targets with confidence. That’s where our partnership with Greenstone comes in. For the last two years, we have been working with Greenstone to reliably track and organize our GHG data, optimize our data collection process, and accurately report carbon emissions and report through CDP.
Greenstone is a Gold CDP Accredited Provider, and that validation gives us – and our company’s leadership - the confidence that we have access to reliable data and methodologies, as well as expert advice around the CDP reporting and submission process. A partnership like this one is essential. To me, it really helps with reporting through CDP, having a partner like Greenstone whose methodology is robust and whose team is accessible and knowledgeable.
And what’s next for Paramount?
Setting long-term emissions targets is a crucial part of our environmental strategy, as well as a mechanism for accountability. After establishing our first set of ESG goals in 2021, we are holding ourselves accountable to those goals while progressing toward more ambitious targets.
We plan to set goals in line with the latest climate projections, and the Paris Agreement, working through the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). With our emissions calculation through Greenstone’s platform, we completed a reassessment of our 2019 emissions baseline, which will be used as the foundation to set our science-based target within the next year.