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If you landed on this page you are looking for the TOP ESG Certifications probably because you are considering getting an ESG Certificate and wondering which one to choose.
This article aims to provide an analysis, comparison, and conclusion of 6 major ESG certificates currently available in the market:

  • CFA ESG Investing (CFA ESG)
  • CFA Certificate in Climate and Investing (CFA CCI)
  • EFFAS Certificate ESG Analyst (CESGA)
  • GARP Sustainability and Climate Risk (GARP SCR)
  • Fundamentals of Sustainable Accounting (FSA)
  • Global Reporting Initiative certificates (GRI)

Why choose one of the top ESG Certifications?

With the increasing global awareness of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors, it is crucial for individuals, organizations, and investors to update their knowledge and incorporate these considerations into their decision-making processes. In response to this growing demand, ESG certifications have emerged as valuable tools for professionals looking to enhance their skills and meet market needs.

However, with a wide array of ESG certifications now available, it is crucial for individuals to understand the nuances and inherent differences between them in order to make informed choices.

Top ESG Certifications: Article Methodology

This article is based on fundamental research and interviews with professionals who have obtained various top ESG Certifications (market-leading ESG certificates). The goal is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the nature, content, characteristics, and objectives of each ESG certificate, as well as obtain valuable insights from those who have completed the analyzed certificates.

The Key Vectors of ESG Certificates Landscape

Our research and interviews have led us to develop a two-vector matrix that can effectively guide candidates through the ambiguous landscape of ESG certificates. The Alma Mundus ESG Certificates Matrix consists of a Subject vector and a Function vector.
Subject Vector

The Subject vector refers to the ESG subject each certificate is focused on. A certificate can be focused on one, two, or all the E, S, and G factors or subjects.

Function Vector

The Function vector pertains to the specific organizational function that the certificate focuses on. For example, a certificate may be specialized in accounting, reporting, risk management, or have a more generic approach. In the latter case, we will label its Function as Overview/Fundamentals.

Alma Mundus ESG Certificates Matrix (AM ESG Matrix)

ESG Certificates Matrix by Alma Mundus

TOP ESG Certifications: Comparing “Apples to Apples” – avoiding a widespread misconception about ESG certificates

The AM ESG Matrix consolidates the subjects and associated functions of each Top ESG Certifications. The placement of each certificate in the matrix assists candidates in conducting a balanced analysis, enabling them to make like-for-like comparisons.

The AM ESG Matrix shows us that there are three main certificate segments:

I

Generalists

These certificates provide the fundamentals of ESG Investing and an overview of the ESG field, encompassing all environmental, social, and governance (E, S, and G) factors in their learning objectives.

II

Environment and Climate

These certificates focused mainly on Environment and/or Climate Change.

III

Other (specific function)

These certificates are focused on functions, such as accounting, reporting, data analytics, auditing, due diligence, marketing, among others. They are designed to cover specific functions within a company and are primarily intended for professionals working in those specific areas.

Upon segmenting and comparing each Top ESG Certification, it becomes apparent that ESG certificates differ in terms of scope, learning objectives, and areas of analysis. It should be noted that, despite falling under the ESG umbrella, some certificates may not be directly comparable.

? Valuable Tip: Many blogs, forums, and websites compare different certifications, including CFA ESG, GARP SCR, CFA CCI, and CESGA. However, these comparisons often fail to acknowledge the differing scopes, learning objectives, and focus areas of each certification.

For example, candidates should thoroughly compare the CFA ESG and GARP SCR certifications. As outlined in the AM ESG Matrix above, the CFA ESG provides a comprehensive understanding of environmental, social, and governance factors, concentrating on the fundamentals of ESG investing, while the GARP SCR is a risk management certificate that focuses specifically on environmental and climate change risks. This does not imply that one is superior to the other; rather, they have different scopes, objectives, and potentially diverse target audiences. The same applies to the other certification comparisons mentioned in this article.
We would like to emphasize the potential opportunity to combine certificates to encompass different ESG functions or analysis areas. Our interviewers are professionals who have recognized the value of pursuing multiple ESG certificates concurrently.
Below, we present a comparative analysis (“apples to apples”), showcasing ESG certificates within the same segment using the AM Matrix. This analysis aims to provide an unbiased evaluation.

TOP ESG Certifications: The Generalists, the Environment and Climate, and the Other

I. Generalists – CFA ESG vs. CESGA 1

CFA ESG CESGA
Administered by CFA Institute EFFAS
Number of registrations 2 31,545 3 10,758 4
Number of holders 2 24,082 3 8,756 4
Difficulty level Level 4 Level 5
Pass rate 71.8% 81,2%
Price $US $795 $1,710
Study Time (hours) 100 – 130 hours 80 – 120 hours
Study Volume (pages) 580 pages NA 5
Exam type 100 MCQ 6 20 MCQ 6 and 9 CRQ 7
Exam time 2 h 20 m 2 h 30 m
Exam dates 8 Anytime 4 times a year (Mar, Jun, Sep, and Dec)
Exam venue options • In-person / Test center
• Online/remote exam option
• In-person / Test center
• Online/remote exam option
Notes
1. The table was completed with information available in September 2023.
2. The number of registrations and holders refers to the period between 2019 and 2022, as this is a comparable period between both certificates. The CFA ESG was launched in 2019 (CESGA has been active since 2016), and 2022 is the last year of publicly available information for CESGA. In August 2023, the CFA ESG had approximately 43,000 registrations.
3. The number of registrations refers to the actual number of registrations between 2019 and 2022. The number of holders is calculated considering a 71.8% pass rate.
4. The number of holders refers to the actual number of registrations between 2019 and 2022. The number of registrations is calculated considering an average 81.2% pass rate.
5. The CESGA study materials include videos, slides, and additional references. The CFA ESG materials are based on a 580-page book.
6. MCQ stands for Multiple Choice Questions.
7. CRQ stands for constructed response questions. This refers to a practical case study, i.e., a due diligence type case to assess a company and explain the different steps to be undertaken for integrating ESG information.
8. The CFA ESG provides a 6-month period upon registration to plan, prepare, and do the exam. The CESGA offers four fixed exam dates throughout the year, and candidates have six month’s access to the learning platform and materials.
Source: CFA Institute, EFFAS Certified ESG Analyst® (CESGA), 300 Hours, Earth Academy, and Alma Mundus

CFA ESG vs. CESGA main conclusions

Compared to CESGA, the CFA ESG boasts three times the number of registrations and holders. Candidates enjoy greater flexibility in choosing when to take their exams. Additionally, the CFA ESG offers a more affordable option. Although the difficulty level is lower, it is important to note that the pass rate is also lower.

These two certificates offer different study materials, which partially justifies the difference in price. Another factor to consider is the exam format. The CFA ESG Exam consists of 100 standard multiple-choice questions, whereas the CESGA exam has a two-part structure, including multiple-choice questions and a practical case study.

“The CFA ESG lays historical and theoretical foundations, whereas CESGA conveys how to practically do ESG-integrated research and ESG-integrated valuations.”

 

Alexander Engelhardt

II. Environment and Climate – CFA CCI vs. GARP SCR 1

CFA CCI GARP SCR
Administered by CFA UK GARP
Number of registrations NA 6,981 2
Difficulty level Level 4 Level 4
Pass rate 60-70% 57%
Price $US $635 3 $750
Study Time (hours) 150 hours 100 to 130 hours
Study Volume (pages) 320 pages 180 pages 4
Exam type 100 questions:
• Standard multiple-choice questions (SMC)
• Multiple response questions
• Item sets
• Drag and drop
• Gap-fill
80 multiple-choice questions, including one case study
Exam time 2 h 20 m 3 h
Exam dates Anytime 2 Exam Windows:
• Window 1 April 15-23
• Window 2 October 21-29
Exam venue options • In-person / Test center
• Online/remote exam option
• In-person / Test center
Notes
1. The table was completed with information available in September 2023.
2. The number of registrations and pass rate for the GARP SCR is determined by the information disclosed in April 2023, which includes all candidates who have registered up until that date.
3. The CFA CCI price was converted to dollars. The original price (from September 1, 2023) is 510 Pounds.
4. In 2022, the GARP SCR book had over 900 pages. In 2023, the book was reduced to roughly 180 pages.

CFA CCI vs. GARP SCR main conclusions

The GARP SCR and the CFA CCI exams are of similar difficulty level. However, the CFA CCI offers greater flexibility regarding exam dates, is more cost-effective, and boasts a higher pass rate when compared to the GARP SCR.

The GARP SCR has demonstrated a comparatively low pass rate when compared to the other certifications mentioned in this article.

“I believe the low pass rate of the GARP SCR may be attributed to the following factors:

1. The exam covers a high volume of dense material that requires meticulous attention to detail.
2. Many candidates underestimate the level of depth and comprehensive understanding needed to pass the exam. It not only requires a solid grasp of the concepts but also command over the extensive amount of information covered. Practice is key, and using prep solutions is key to improving study efficiency and increasing your chances of success.
3. The exam is known to include some challenging multiple-choice questions that appear unconventional and seemingly difficult to answer.”

 

Alexander Engelhardt

III. Other ESG Certificates – FSA and GRI – Specific Functions

The FSA and GRI certificates are highly esteemed and regarded as the prominent educational programs in their respective fields, specifically accounting and reporting. These certificates offer substantial benefits to professionals working in these areas. However, as they concentrate on distinct yet valuable functions, we will refrain from making a comparison in this article. If you desire further information regarding the FSA and GRI certificates or their educational programs, please refer to the links provided below:
  • The FSA Credential combines two exams to assess professional expertise in the materiality of sustainability information for corporate performance and investment analysis.
  • The GRI Professional Certification Program is a sustainability curriculum that delivers globally applicable professional development on the GRI Standards and offers professionals an opportunity for continuous learning and upskilling.

ESG Certificates Syllabus Comparison

The following syllabus comparison offers a detailed overview of the Top ESG Certifications, the content and learning objectives for each certificate, allowing for a better understanding of the areas of study and subject matter.

Generalists

Environment and Climate

CFA ESG

Chapter 1:
Introduction to ESG Investing
Chapter 2:
The ESG Market
Chapter 3:
Environmental Factors
Chapter 4:
Social Factors
Chapter 5:
Governance Factors
Chapter 6:
Engagement and Stewardship
Chapter 7:
ESG Analysis, Valuation, and Integration
Chapter 8:
Integrated Portfolio Construction and Management
Chapter 9:
Investment Mandates, Portfolio Analytics, and Client Reporting

CESGA

Module 1:
Recent Developments in ESG Integration
Module 2:
Regulatory environment
Module 3:
ESG-Strategies
Module 4:
Responsible Investing Across Asset Classes
Module 5:
ESG Reporting (with a more European orientation)
Module 6:
ESG Integration in Research
Module 7:
ESG Integration in Valuation
Module 8:
Investment Decision Process
Module 9:
Case Study – ESG Integration in The Investment Decision
Module 10 (not tested):
ESG Regional Developments: ESG in Asia Pacific – where we stand

CFA CCI

Chapter 1:
Introduction to Climate and Investing
Chapter 2:
Climate Science and Climate Risks, Impacts and Opportunities
Chapter 3:
Policy Response, Regulation, and the Reporting Landscape
Chapter 4:
Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation
Chapter 5:
Climate Risk Measurement: Data, Metrics, Targets and Scenario Analysis
Chapter 6:
Stewardship and Engagement in Climate
Chapter 7:
Listed Equities and Bonds. Insurance Products
Chapter 8:
Private Equity and Debt. Carbon Markets
Chapter 9:
Real Assets
Chapter 10:
Portfolio Management

GARP SCR

Chapter 1:
Foundations of Climate Change: What Is Climate Change?
Chapter 2:
Sustainability
Chapter 3:
Climate Change Risk
Chapter 4:
Sustainability and Climate Policy, Culture, and Governance
Chapter 5:
Green and Sustainable Finance: Markets and Instruments
Chapter 6:
Climate Risk Measurement and Management
Chapter 7:
Climate Models and Scenario Analysis
Chapter 8:
Net Zero

580 pages

N/A

320 pages

180 pages

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TOP ESG Certifications: Interviews

Alexander Engelhardt’s Interview (main takeaways)

Reason for doing ESG certificates:

  • Acquire ESG knowledge from different perspectives to gain a holistic, 360-degree view.
Background

  • Big law (US, partner), strategic communications (UK, MD), M&A, and Special Situations; since 2008 owned law firm, focusing on special situations, corporate litigation, and compliance.
  • Lawyer, non-executive board member (as a service), EU lobbyist, strategic communications advisor
  • CFA ESG, CESGA, FSA I and II, GARP SCR, and FSR.
ESG Certificates taken and reason for taking each certificate:

  • The CFA ESG to gain the investors’ perspective on ESG risk and opportunity and fiduciary duties across the investment universe and asset classes.
  • The CESGA for unbiased analysis and reality-checking of third-party ESG research and valuations.
  • The FSA I and II to gain the U.S.-centric, outside-in perspective, how to detect and avoid ESG risk, and capture ESG opportunity from a corporate perspective.
  • The GARP SCR for climate change knowledge to fully understand underlying facts and developments.
  • The FSR “Green Deal” to understand how the EU is fundamentally changing the way we do business and how we live, and the decisive role of energy supply (having in mind the “Brussels” effect).
Value-added for day-to-day job:

  • Knowledge: the courses convey deep understanding and reasonably detailed knowledge of scientific and factual frameworks, concepts, and terminology – “ESG think” and “ESG speak” – as a prerequisite for effectively communicating within the ESG space. We must not underestimate the critical importance of understanding the world as is; if we want to protect our vital natural resources and successfully navigate through the ESG maze to protect, unlock, and create ESG value.
  • Credibility: Useful for competence display in personal branding.
Comparing each certificate level of difficulty:

  • The CFA ESG and FSA Level I are comparable in volume and difficulty (Level 4 of difficulty).
  • The CESGA is generally believed to be more difficult (Level 5 of difficulty), comparable to CFA Level I, and based on EU and UK official classifications.
ESG Certificates Difficulty Comparison
  • GARP SCR is difficult as its material requires meticulous attention to detail.
  • FSA Lev II is slightly more challenging because of the practical aspects and mini case studies, which involved basic math and statistics, e.g., for normalization of data.
  • FSR Green Deal is even more difficult but typically done by seasoned subject matter experts; in addition to a syllabus, there are live lectures and in-depth discussions with industry experts and EU Commission officials. There is no exam, but it involves the writing of a paper (mine was a US IRA vs. EU subsidies comparison and picked by FSR for presentation, resulting in a certificate of excellence).
Prep Providers used:

Continuously learning – Do you plan to do other ESG certificates?

  • Yes, probably more in-depth or specialized certificates that complement the value and knowledge acquired with the ones I have taken (CFA ESG, CESGA, FSA I and II, GARP SCR, and Florence School of Regulation “Green Deal).

Paulo Andrade de Oliveira’s Interview (main takeaways)

Reason for doing ESG certificates:

  • I needed to take a step back and gain more knowledge in a subject that is shaping the investment and finance industry (CFA ESG). Additionally, I needed to delve deeper into the environmental and climate topic (CFA CCI) to effectively address challenges and identify opportunities for my clients.

Background

  • Financial and Strategic Advisor. Founder of Alma Mundus.
  • MBA, CFA ESG and CFA CCI
ESG Certificates taken and reason for taking each certificate:

  • The CFA ESG to acquire a solid understanding of ESG Investing and gain a comprehensive overview of analyzing, integrating, and reporting material ESG topics in the investment decision-making process.
  • The CFA CCI to gain a comprehensive understanding of environmental and climate change factors, with a focus on their potential impacts on businesses and financial models. Additionally, the objective was to explore how investors are incorporating these factors into their risk management strategies and identifying potential opportunities.
Value-added for day-to-day job:

  • Knowledge and Opportunity: These courses are designed to organize, digest, and highlight ESG content. They provide crucial knowledge that can be utilized to effectively meet the needs of our clients, thereby creating new business opportunities. ESG has opened up new horizons for investors and businesses, making it imperative to acknowledge its significance. However, it is important to address and overcome any criticisms or doubts that may arise along the journey. – The ESG “roadblocks” are opportunities too.
  • Vision: Whether we refer to it as ESG or by another name, it is indisputable that investors and investees will require a more comprehensive approach that takes into account factors beyond purely financial considerations in their decision-making processes. Embracing and incorporating these factors will be crucial for identifying emerging business opportunities, key industries, and nascent sectors.
Comparing each certificate level of difficulty:

  • Both the CFA ESG and CFA CCI exams are at the same difficulty level, Level 4. However, in my experience, I found the CFA CCI to be more challenging than the CFA ESG due to its inclusion of more complex scientific concepts, climate-specific regulations, and the implementation of a different exam format which I personally found to be slightly more demanding.
Continuously learning – Do you plan to do other ESG certificates?

  • Yes, these certificates are an extremely effective means of acquiring specialized knowledge, particularly in the field of ESG. These organizations, such as the CFA Institute, have the ability to bring together industry experts to create comprehensive materials, conduct research, and develop certification programs that would otherwise be challenging to gather. Pursuing these certificates also enables professionals to structure their learning within a defined timeframe, offering a highly efficient means of gaining expertise in a specific area. This “formula” works perfectly for me.
Alma Mundus is grateful for the opportunity to support thousands of CFA ESG Candidates from over 140 countries throughout their study journey since Edition 2 (2020/21). This experience has allowed us to constantly improve our Academy and study solutions such as CFA ESG Question Bank, CFA ESG Study Platform Standard and CFA ESG Study Platform Plus.

If you find this article helpful, we invite you to keep reading other articles about the CFA ESG Investing Certificate  and follow Alma Mundus on LinkedIn for all updates, news, alerts, and promotions regarding the CFA ESG Certificate.

 

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