What's the Best ESG and Sustainability Certification? A Detailed Comparison

Explore top ESG certifications for 2023. Learn the pros, cons, costs, and study needs for popular options like CFA ESG and GRI to make an informed choice.

In today's evolving business landscape, sustainability isn't just a buzzword—it's an imperative. With increased regulatory scrutiny and a greater emphasis on ethical practices, the spotlight is firmly on Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) practices. The numbers affirm this trend: according to a Capital Group ESG Global Study, the Asia Pacific region saw the number of ESG adopters rise from 81% in 2021 to 88% in 2022. Clearly, ESG considerations are becoming increasingly integral to institutional and professional investment strategies.

Why is this relevant to businesses? Well, incorporating ESG principles doesn't just elevate your company’s ethical standing; it provides a significant competitive edge. In a marketplace that's more cutthroat than ever, ESG initiatives can distinguish your organization as a leader in sustainability and corporate responsibility.

One of the most effective ways to demonstrate a commitment to these values is through specialized ESG certifications. These credentials serve as an industry-recognized stamp of approval, assuring stakeholders that your company is genuinely committed to sustainable practices. Importantly, they provide a shield against accusations of "greenwashing," boosting your organization's credibility among investors, customers, and peers.

Stay with us as we explore the leading ESG certification programs, to guide you in making an informed decision for advancing your career in the realm of sustainability.

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Certification


If you're a sustainability guru or communicator who dreams of crafting top-notch sustainability reports, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Certification might just be your golden ticket. This program goes beyond theory to train you in the fine art of collecting, analyzing, and presenting sustainability data.

Cost and Estimated Time to Complete:

Prepare to invest around $1,200 and approximately 25-30 hours for training and exam preparation.

Additional Study Material and Prep Providers:

The primary source of study material for the GRI certification is usually GRI itself, which offers comprehensive guides and frameworks. Although third-party prep providers are not as common for this particular certification, some organizations and consultancies may offer workshops or supplementary courses focused on GRI reporting standards.

Advantages of GRI Sustainability Reporting Certification:

  • Standardized Framework: In a world awash with varying sustainability metrics, GRI offers a universally recognized structure. This ensures you're not just reporting, but reporting effectively and consistently.
  • Enhanced Reporting Skills: It's one thing to know sustainability; it's another to effectively communicate it. This certification turns you into a dual-threat: a sustainability expert who can also clearly and convincingly report on it.
  • Practical Experience: Get your hands dirty (figuratively, of course) with real-world training. You won't just learn about reporting—you'll actually do it, building confidence and competence along the way.
  • Industry Recognition: In the realm of sustainability, GRI is like the Harvard of reporting standards. Holding this certificate instantly elevates your professional standing, singling you out as someone who knows their stuff.

Disadvantages of GRI Sustainability Reporting Certification:

  • Time and Resource Intensive: All good things come at a cost. In this case, that involves not just money, but a notable chunk of your time. This could be a hurdle if you're already juggling a busy life or constrained budget.
  • Limited Focus: Yes, you'll become a GRI reporting wiz. But what about other frameworks and emerging trends in sustainability? You might find yourself needing more training to round out your expertise.
  • Evolving Standards: The only constant in sustainability reporting is change. You'll need to stay vigilant to keep up with the frequent updates and revisions to the GRI Standards.

CFA Institute Certificate in ESG Investing (CFA ESG)


The CFA Institute Certificate in ESG Investing offers an intensive curriculum aimed at arming investment professionals with expertise in sustainable and responsible investing. The certificate is bestowed by the CFA Institute, a body universally acknowledged for setting high standards in the investment community.

Cost and Estimated Time to Complete:

Prepare to invest approximately $800 for the certificate and allocate around 130-150 hours for study and exam preparation.

Additional Study Material and Prep Providers:

Official study materials are provided by the CFA Institute. Some known third-party providers for CFA certification prep like Brainie, Kaplan Schweser might offer ESG-specific material. Additionally, Brainie offers specialized prep material for the CFA ESG exam.

Advantages of the CFA ESG:

  • Comprehensive Education: This certification is a masterclass in everything ESG, from understanding governance models to assessing environmental risks.
  • Credibility and Recognition: The CFA Institute is a stalwart in the financial world, lending immense credibility to this certificate. You won't just have a badge; you'll have a badge that means something.
  • Professional Development: This isn't just a line on your resume. It's a career catapult that propels you into roles requiring specialized skills in sustainable finance.
  • Network and Resources: A lesser-talked-about benefit, but massively valuable. The certificate plugs you into a global network of like-minded professionals and provides access to invaluable ESG-focused resources.

Disadvantages of the CFA ESG:

  • Cost and Time: The comprehensive nature of the program means that you'll need to allocate both funds and significant time for study, so plan accordingly.
  • Narrow Focus: The certification zeroes in on investment elements, so it may not cover broader sustainability factors exhaustively.
  • Evolving Field: ESG trends are ever-changing. Even after certification, you'll need to invest time and effort to keep up-to-date.

GARP Sustainability and Climate Risk (GARP SCR) Certificate


Provided by the Global Association of Risk Professionals (GARP), this certification is a deep dive into the intricacies of risk management as it relates to sustainability within financial institutions.

Cost and Estimated Time to Complete:

The cost of the program is roughly $650, and candidates usually need between 100-120 hours for study and exam prep.

Additional Study Material and Prep Providers:

GARP provides the main study material, but Brainie specifically offers additional prep material designed for the GARP SCR certification.

Advantages of the GARP SCR:

  • Comprehensive Knowledge: If sustainability and climate risk get your heart racing, then this certification will be right up your alley, covering everything from climate science to regulatory frameworks.
  • Industry Recognition: Coming from GARP, this certificate carries weight. It immediately communicates your expertise and command over sustainability and risk-related issues.
  • Practical Relevance: You won't just learn theories. The program equips you with real-world, practical tools for identifying and mitigating ESG risks.
  • Networking Opportunities: The GARP community is rich in experts and professionals; a great pool to fish for networking, mentorship, and even job opportunities.

Disadvantages of the GARP SCR:

  • Specialized Focus: This certification hones in on risk within the financial sector, so if you're looking for broader ESG knowledge, this may not be your go-to.
  • Limited Coverage: The SCR Certificate's focus on risk means other ESG aspects might not get a look-in. It's robust but not necessarily broad.
  • Cost and Time: The certification does require a commitment of both your hours and your dollars. Make sure you're ready for both.
  • Evolving Landscape: Just like the ESG investing field, the area of sustainability and climate risk is a moving target. Keeping up with industry shifts will be a continuous learning journey.

SASB Fundamentals of Sustainability Accounting Certificate


The SASB Fundamentals of Sustainability Accounting certificate is your go-to certification for getting versed in the financial aspects of sustainability. Tailored by the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), this certificate is particularly tailored for professionals in the accounting, financial analysis, and sustainability sectors who are keen on mastering the ins and outs of sustainability accounting practices.

Cost and Estimated Time to Complete:

The cost of the certificate varies but is generally around $1,000 to $2,500. The program usually requires between 20 to 40 hours of study and can be completed in about 1-2 months.

Additional Study Material and Prep Providers:

SASB offers official study materials. While third-party prep providers are not common, related courses and content may be available through academic institutions with sustainability and accounting programs.

Advantages of SASB Fundamentals of Sustainability Accounting Certificate:

  • Standardization: Adopting globally recognized SASB standards through this certificate ensures you’re on the same page as everyone else when it comes to sustainability accounting. The uniformity in reporting makes it straightforward for stakeholders to assess and compare sustainability performances across different organizations.
  • Comprehensive Education: The program is a full suite of educational content, touching upon a variety of topics like ESG metrics, data analytics, and sustainability reporting strategies. This means you’re not just learning to count in ‘green’, you’re learning to think in ‘sustainable’.
  • Credibility and Trust: This certification isn’t just a feather in your professional cap; it’s a beacon of trust and credibility. It signals to investors, stakeholders, and customers that you’re committed to transparent and accountable sustainability reporting, thereby elevating your professional reputation.
  • Career Advancement: At a time when ESG considerations are increasingly on the corporate agenda, holding a SASB Fundamentals of Sustainability Accounting certificate provides you with a competitive edge. Whether you're an accountant, financial analyst, or a sustainability professional, this credential could be your ticket to career progression.

Disadvantages of SASB Fundamentals of Sustainability Accounting Certificate:

  • Limited Focus: This certification is a deep dive into SASB standards in financial reporting. While that’s great for mastering sustainability accounting, it doesn’t necessarily give you a full picture of broader sustainability management. If you’re looking for an all-encompassing sustainability education, you may need additional certifications or training.
  • Evolving Standards: In the fast-changing landscape of sustainability, SASB standards aren’t set in stone. Professionals need to keep up with the latest updates and revisions to make sure their skills and knowledge remain current and compliant.
  • Industry-Specific Focus: The program is built around industry-specific sustainability issues and metrics. While this lends the curriculum high relevance, it might not suit those looking to gain a cross-industry perspective on sustainability accounting.

Sustainalytics ESG Fundamentals Certification


If you’re a company keen on demonstrating your commitment to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards, the Sustainalytics ESG Fundamentals Certification is a ticket to higher credibility and better stakeholder relationships. Crafted by Sustainalytics—a trailblazer in ESG research—this certification is more than just a seal of approval; it's a comprehensive evaluation of your ESG performance across various parameters like climate action, labor rights, and corporate governance.

Cost and Estimated Time to Complete:

The cost can vary depending on the size and complexity of the company, ranging from $5,000 to $20,000. The certification process typically takes about 3-6 months.

Additional Study Material and Prep Providers:

The primary source of study material is Sustainalytics itself. Currently, there are no widely recognized third-party prep providers for this certification.

Advantages of Sustainalytics ESG Fundamentals Certification:

  • Credibility and Recognition: With the backing of Sustainalytics, a titan in ESG research, this certification is far from a mere paper exercise. It’s a badge of honor recognized by stakeholders, investors, and the business community at large, elevating your company's reputation and attractiveness.
  • Comprehensive Assessment: This isn't just a tick-box exercise. The Sustainalytics ESG Fundamentals Certification dives deep into your company's policies, practices, and sustainability impacts, providing a multi-dimensional view of your ESG efforts.
  • Industry Benchmarking: How do you stack up against your industry peers? The certification doesn't just evaluate; it compares. This competitive benchmarking can be a catalyst for improving your ESG practices to stay ahead in the game.
  • Continuous Monitoring: The certification isn’t a one-and-done deal. Sustainalytics keeps an eye on your ESG performance, updating your status and allowing stakeholders to track your sustainability journey over time.

Disadvantages of Sustainalytics ESG Fundamentals Certification:

  • Subjectivity in Rating: No rating system is perfect, and this certification is no exception. There's a degree of subjectivity in how different ESG factors are evaluated and weighted, making it imperative for stakeholders to understand the methodology involved.
  • Cost and Resource Intensiveness: Acquiring this certification is not just a monetary investment but also a resource commitment. Companies—especially smaller ones—might find this burdensome in terms of time, effort, and finances.
  • Focus on Disclosure: The certification does a deep dive into your ESG policies and practices, but the stress is often on transparency and disclosure. While important, critics argue that a focus on measurable sustainability outcomes should also be highlighted.
  • Limited Scope: Are you a small or privately-owned company, a non-profit, or a company operating in specialized sectors? Then this certification might not be your best fit, given its focus on large publicly-traded companies.

PRI (Principles for Responsible Investment) Academy ESG Integration Course


The PRI Academy's ESG Integration Course is a one-stop destination for investment professionals looking to master the integration of ESG factors into their investment strategies. The curriculum is robust, covering everything from ESG analysis to sustainability reporting. Most importantly, the course is based on PRI's six globally acknowledged principles for responsible investment.

Cost and Estimated Time to Complete:

The cost of the course generally ranges between $1,500 to $3,000, with corporate discounts often available. The estimated time for completion varies but typically falls within 30 to 60 hours over a period of 2 to 3 months.

Additional Study Material and Prep Providers:

Most study material is directly from the PRI Academy. However, some may choose to consult academic journals or white papers related to ESG integration for supplementary learning.

Advantages of PRI Academy ESG Integration Course:

  • Expertise in ESG Integration: After completing this course, you’ll become adept at weaving ESG factors into your investment decisions. This skill will help you spot investment avenues that not only promise financial returns but also contribute to sustainability, potentially making your investment portfolio more resilient over the long term.
  • Comprehensive Curriculum: The course isn't just about ESG analysis; it’s about understanding the whole panorama of sustainable investing. From responsible investing strategies to sustainability reporting, the course covers it all, ensuring a well-rounded, in-depth education.
  • Alignment with PRI's Principles: By focusing on the six Principles for Responsible Investment developed by PRI, the course positions you on a globally accepted platform of ESG investment standards. This can not only improve your professional credibility but also make you more attractive to clients and investors who prioritize sustainable investment practices.
  • Informed Investment Decisions: The course arms you with the analytical skills to assess ESG materiality, risks, and opportunities. Armed with this information, you can better align your investment practices with societal and environmental impacts, not to mention client values.

Disadvantages of PRI Academy ESG Integration Course:

  • Time and Resource Commitment: This isn’t a course you can breeze through. It demands a hefty investment of your time and possibly your finances, given the enrollment fees and other associated costs.
  • The Ever-changing ESG Landscape: While the course lays a solid foundation, the field of ESG is like shifting sands, constantly evolving with new frameworks, regulations, and best practices. Keeping your knowledge current will require ongoing effort and perhaps additional training.
  • Limited Guidance on Niche Strategies: The course broadly covers ESG integration but doesn't dive deep into specialized or niche areas within sustainable investing. If you’re looking for in-depth guidance on specific investment strategies, you may need to look elsewhere.
  • Implementation Challenges: Learning theories is one thing; applying them is another. You may face challenges in effectively translating your newly-acquired knowledge into practical investment decisions, especially considering factors like data availability and standardization issues.

EFFAS Certified ESG Analyst® (CESGA)


The EFFAS Certified ESG Analyst® (CESGA) certificate is a professional training program that focuses on ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) analysis and its integration into investment decision-making. This certification is designed for professionals in the finance and investment sectors who want to gain specialized expertise in evaluating ESG factors alongside traditional financial metrics.

Cost and Estimated Time to Complete:

The cost and duration can vary, but candidates should expect to invest between $2,000 and $4,000 and dedicate a few months to coursework and exam preparation.

Additional Study Material and Prep Providers:

Study material is generally provided by EFFAS. As of my last update, no specific third-party prep providers were recognized for this certification.

Advantages of EFFAS Certified ESG Analyst® (CESGA):

  • Holistic ESG Education: The CESGA certification provides a deep dive into the world of ESG analysis, covering valuation techniques, measurement frameworks, and integration methods. This offers a comprehensive understanding of how ESG factors can impact investment decisions.
  • Fundamental Company Analysis: This program goes beyond pure ESG analysis by incorporating fundamental company analysis. This dual approach enables candidates to appraise investment opportunities from both financial and sustainability standpoints, providing a more nuanced evaluation process.
  • Recognized Industry Credential: Being a CESGA-certified analyst is a testament to one’s skills and knowledge in ESG analysis, and it’s a credential that holds significant weight in the financial industry. It can boost your professional credibility and open doors for career advancement.
  • Practical ESG Integration: The program is designed not just to impart knowledge but also to provide practical frameworks for integrating ESG considerations into investment practices. This prepares professionals to make investment decisions that account for both financial returns and ESG impact.

Disadvantages of EFFAS Certified ESG Analyst® (CESGA):

  • Specialized Focus: While specialization in ESG is the program’s strength, it could also be a limitation for professionals looking for a broader financial skill set. The CESGA program won’t replace a more comprehensive finance or investment certification.
  • Limited Availability: The CESGA certification may not be readily accessible in all geographies. Candidates need to check whether they can undertake the program in their locality or need to rely on online resources, which might not be the ideal learning environment for all.
  • Time and Cost Commitment: This certification demands both a financial investment and a time commitment. If you are considering enrolling, ensure that you can allocate the necessary resources and that the program aligns well with your career goals.

Concluding Summary: Comparing ESG and Sustainability Certifications

The burgeoning focus on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) considerations in the business and investment landscapes has led to an assortment of specialized certifications. These certifications each have unique advantages and drawbacks, and the right choice will depend on individual career goals, sector needs, and personal interests.

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Certification

This certification is indispensable for those focusing on sustainability reporting standards. It provides a globally recognized framework but may require a dedicated time and resource commitment.

Sustainalytics ESG Fundamentals Certification

Targeted at companies, this program offers an effective way to assess and showcase strong ESG performance. While it is widely recognized and provides industry benchmarking, it can be resource-intensive and less accessible for smaller firms.

SASB Fundamentals of Sustainability Accounting

This certification is ideal for accountants, financial analysts, and sustainability professionals who specialize in accounting and reporting. It provides standardization but may be limited in scope regarding broader sustainability issues.

PRI Academy ESG Integration Course

Aimed at investment professionals, this course offers a thorough guide to integrating ESG factors into investment decisions. Though resource-intensive, it is comprehensive, focusing predominantly on responsible investing.

EFFAS Certified ESG Analyst® (CESGA)

This certification, designed for finance and investment professionals, focuses on ESG analysis within investment decision-making. It is widely recognized but also demands significant time and financial resources.

CFA Institute Certificate in ESG Investing

Offered by the prestigious CFA Institute, this certificate is particularly useful for investment and finance professionals. It offers a global perspective and significant credibility but requires considerable preparation time.

GARP SCR (Sustainability and Climate Risk)

Created for risk management professionals, this certification is invaluable for those interested in understanding financial risks associated with climate change and sustainability. It has a unique focus on risk, making it specialized but crucial for roles in risk assessment.

Key Takeaways:

  • For Corporate ESG Assessment: Companies might find the Sustainalytics certification most comprehensive.
  • For Reporting: The GRI and SASB certificates are crucial for professionals focused on sustainability reporting.
  • For Accounting and Reporting: The SASB Fundamentals is the go-to for those engaged in sustainability accounting.
  • For Investment Professionals: The PRI Academy, CFA ESG, and EFFAS CESGA certifications are tailored to investment professionals, each with distinct areas of focus.
  • For Risk Management: The GARP SCR certificate stands out for its emphasis on sustainability and climate-related financial risks.

Time and Resource Commitment

All these certifications demand different levels of time and financial investments, factors which should be weighed against the expected benefits.


In conclusion, the growing importance of ESG considerations in both business and investment decisions has given rise to a varied suite of certifications. These programs offer essential training and credentials for companies and professionals looking to excel in the realms of sustainability and responsible investment. Selecting the appropriate certification will hinge on specific career or organizational goals, making a detailed understanding of each program's unique strengths and limitations essential for an informed decision.

Additional Brainie Prep Material: For more in-depth preparation, be sure to consult our supplementary "Brainie" materials designed to deepen your understanding and readiness for each certification.