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From: ThinkESG February 12, 2021

A global survey reveals that the companies have increased their focus on ESG in 2020, and continue to raise ESG spending in  2021.

Integrated risk and compliance management solutions NAVEX Global shared key findings from a survey of managers and senior executives on ESG practices at companies across the US, UK, France and Germany.

Key findings:

  • While investor demand has elevated ESG interest and practices amongst publicly traded companies, this survey revealed that the focus on ESG extends to privately held companies. 88% of publicly traded companies have ESG initiatives in place followed by 79% of the 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% rated their company’s performance against governance as very effective.
    • Only 37% rated their company’s performance against social issues as very effective.
  • “ESG has continued to grow in importance, with multiple stakeholders exerting pressure on organizations to address issues related to corporate, environmental and social responsibility,” said Bob Conlin, NAVEX Global CEO. “While global standards and regulations are still nascent, businesses aren’t waiting. They recognize that prioritizing ESG is an investment in competitiveness and future success.”

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’ 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 US on formal ESG programs

The survey also suggested the US 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 UK wasn’t far behind with 82%. However, only 74% of US respondents indicated the same.

Despite that lag, the survey suggests the US may be catching up: 67% of respondents in the US and the UK 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 UK respondents and 54% of French respondents. Governance ranked last in importance among respondents in all four countries.

Generational Differences

Generationally, millennial leaders are more favourable 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.

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