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ESG has become a hot topic in recent years, but despite increased investment, fewer than half of employees believe their own companies’ ESG performance is effective. Read on to see where programs are being implemented, and how attitudes are changing.

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of NAVEX Global in December 2020, this ESG survey included responses from 1,250 management and senior level executives in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany, all of whom work at companies with 500 or more employees.

Companies Lack Confidence in ESG Efforts

81% of companies have a formal ESG program, but only 50% of companies believe their company performs effectively against environment metrics.

While investor demand has elevated ESG interest and practices amongst publicly traded companies, this survey revealed the focus on ESG extends to privately held companies as well. 88% of publicly traded companies have ESG initiatives in place followed by 79% of venture and private equity-backed companies and 67% of privately-owned companies, according to respondents.

The majority of respondents (81%) said their company has a formal ESG program in place. But there is not a high level of confidence that companies are effectively performing against all of their stated ESG metrics:

  • 50% believe their company performs very effectively against environment metrics.
  • Only 39% rate their company’s performance against governance as very effective.
  • Only 37% rate their company’s performance against social issues as very effective.

ESG Spending Is on the Rise

Sixty-four percent of respondents said their company increased its focus on ESG in 2020, and a similar number (63%) said their companies were planning to increase spending on ESG in 2021.

That increased spending makes sense considering that 87% of respondents agree that a business’s brand reputation is impacted by performance against ESG metrics. Further, 81% agree that a publicly traded company’s ESG ratings would influence their personal investment decision about that company’s stock.

Europe Is Ahead of the U.S. on Formal ESG Programs

The survey also suggested the U.S. lags behind European countries when it comes to ESG initiatives and formal program implementation. A very high proportion of respondents from France (86%) and Germany (86%) indicated they worked for companies that have formal ESG reporting processes in place. The U.K. wasn’t far behind with 82%. However, only 74% of U.S. respondents indicated the same.

Despite that lag, the survey suggests the U.S. may be catching up: 67% of respondents in the U.S. and the U.K. said their companies would increase their focus on ESG factors in 2021, compared to 62% in France and 58% in Germany.

Also, noteworthy: in aggregate, the respondents ranked environment as the most important ESG element impacting their company’s brand reputation. However, there were significant differences by country. Respondents from the U.S. were least likely (43%) to rank environment as the top ESG factor, compared with 57% of German respondents, 55% of U.K. respondents and 54% of French respondents. Governance ranked last in importance among respondents in all four countries.

Elements of ESG most important to business reputation, by country:

Environment Social Issues Governance
U.S. 43% 34% 14%
U.K. 55% 26% 13%
France 54% 30% 10%
Germany 57% 22% 16%

Generational Differences in Response to ESG

Generationally, millennial leaders are more favorable to ESG initiatives than their Generation X or baby boomer counterparts. For companies that did not already have ESG programs in place, 64% of millennials (24-39-year-olds) believed they should, vs. 55% of Gen X (40-55-year-olds) and 38% of older leaders (56+).

Millennials are more likely to connect a company’s reputation to environmental factors than older generations with 55% believing environmental factors are most important to their company’s reputation, compared to 44% of Gen X respondents and 48% of older respondents.

Millennials were also most likely to consider ESG factors in their own stock purchasing decisions. Forty-five percent said ESG ratings would influence their stock buying decisions, vs. 37% of Gen X respondents and 36% of older respondents.

Leveraging ESG solutions, businesses are able to fully understand their ESG position and respond accordingly. Ultimately, ESG activity is replacing CSR because it has a tangible, measurable, positive impact.

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