By Roger Aitken — Around half (47%) of UK workers believe that companies can achieve higher environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards “without sacrificing profitability”, according to new research that canvassed a panel of respondents spanning chief executives, directors, company owners as well as other staff.
The research, which was conducted by strategic insight agency Opinium and based on online interviews with 500 UK adults between 12 January to 27 April 2017, revealed that just over half (52%) of workers believe companies should consider ESG issues because it is “morally the correct thing to do.”
In terms of Opinium’s sample, 57% of respondents were in senior managerial positions or above.
James Endersby, Managing Director from Opinium Research, remarking in the wake of the survey results: “It’s fantastic to see ESG issues becoming more of a consideration for businesses over the last five years and encouraging that many feel they can incorporate this consideration into their business strategy without sacrificing profits.”
According to Mark Evans, Director of the Better Society Network, which conducts research into responsible business and the corporate and financial engagement with social and environmental issues, commenting said: “Many companies now can see that their organisation’s ESG position is driving higher long-term profitability.”
He added: “This represents a sea change in perception; ESG was only notionally considered in the previous decades, but now is not only fully accepted, but seen as no impediment to profit.”
Among other key findings in the survey, one in eight (12%) say profits should be impacted if necessary to raise such standards, but a quarter (24%) say they would be unwilling to accept sacrificing profitability for the sake of ESG.
And, almost two-fifths (38%) of UK workers believe their company’s consideration of ESG issues has risen over the last five years, it was found. Only 2% believe these concerns have reduced.
The research also reveals a degree of pragmatism, with 28% expressing the view that ESG issues need to be considered to legally protect their company, while over a tad over a quarter (26%) say that ESG considerations are “ultimately necessary” to be more successful.
This latter belief is not skewed in any particular generation - while 25% of Millennials (18-34 year olds) believe this, 26% of 35 to 55-plus believe this, too.
Despite the growing concerns, UK companies are remarkably reticent when it comes to highlighting their efforts with regards to ESG. The majority of workers (53%) say their companies do not publicise their ESG activities at all. The most popular platform for doing so is internal communications, yet only one in five (21%) uses this.
Other methods include the annual company report (17%); press releases (11%); sponsorship (10%); and advertising (9%).
Perhaps interestingly, 27% of respondents say they have no idea whether their company is planning to improve its approach to ESG issues. Although entering awards can be used to highlight ESG activities, only 10% of companies do this, while 9% collaborate with an external partner such as a charity or community group and 9% hold consultations or events.
Jonathan Flint, Managing Director of international PR firm Citigate Dewe Rogerson that has served over 500 clients from start-ups to some of the world’s largest listed companies, said: “Public consciousness of ESG issues continues to rise, putting ever more pressure on companies to demonstrate good behaviour.”
But despite this, he added: “It is surprising that our research shows how little companies are doing to highlight their ESG activities. The potential to enhance their reputations further with comprehensive communications is substantial.”
Reputation among clients and potential clients is seen as important to their organisation by four in five (81%), while 75% believe that their company cares how the public perceives them and two thirds (67%) think that the reputation of their organisation to employees and potential employees is significant.