Purpose: This study aims to examine the relationship between environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosure, firm risk and stock market returns within the Chinese energy sector. Using a variety of econometric techniques, the study seeks to uncover the impact of ESG disclosure on risk mitigation and its influence on stock market performance. Design/methodology/approach: Benchmark regression models were used to explore the associations between ESG disclosure, firm risk and stock returns. To address potential endogeneity, a generalised method of moments estimator is used. Quantile regression was used for robustness analysis. Findings: The study reveals a negative relationship between ESG disclosure and firm risk, indicating that companies with greater ESG disclosure tend to experience reduced risk exposure. In addition, a positive association is observed between ESG disclosure and stock market returns, suggesting that companies with more comprehensive ESG disclosure practices tend to perform better in the stock market. Research limitations/implications: This study implies that investors appreciate sustainable investment and incorporate ESG practices and disclosure in decision-making. Policymakers can promote transparent ESG reporting through regulatory frameworks, fostering sustainable practices in the energy sector. Originality/value: Despite the mounting concerns over carbon dioxide emissions and the energy industry’s environmental footprint, this study pioneers a comprehensive analysis of ESG disclosure within this critical sector. Delving into the relationship of ESG practices, firm risk and market returns, this research uniquely examines both risk mitigation and return enhancement, shedding new light on sustainable strategies in the energy domain.