- More than half (51%) of consumers say they are strongly interested in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues
- Two fifths (39%) of consumers are prepared to consider direct action if corporates fail to meet ethical and sustainability standards
- Findings set a clear agenda for business and governments as we head into COP26
London: October 21, 2021 – Climate change is now a bigger concern for people in the UK (71%) than Covid (70%) or the economy (67%), according to the inaugural SEC Newgate ESG Monitor, a global research study of public attitudes to ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) principles.
The research conducted among more than 10,000 consumers in ten countries reveals more than half (51%) of consumers are strongly interested in ESG issues and highly motivated to call out corporate behaviour that fails to deliver good environmental and ethical standards. Two fifths of UK consumers (39%) say they have avoided using a company’s products or services in the last two years because they didn’t like the firm’s ESG practices.
In addition, around a quarter (26%) have warned others against using products and services from firms which they perceive as having poor ESG performance. And one in five (20%) say they have discussed a company’s ESG behaviour online or on social media.
Arguably more worrying for the UK’s boardrooms is that the research suggests a deficit of trust between consumers and corporates, with more than half (55%) of UK consumers believing that companies are over-reporting the positive environmental impact they deliver, as concerns about green washing continue to rise up the agenda.
UK consumers also believe that ESG claims made by business should be better regulated (74%), with companies penalised for poor ESG performance (71%).
Emma Kane, CEO SEC Newgate UK, states: “We all know that concerns around the environmental, ethical and social impact of business have been growing but what is surprising is how willing consumers are to take control of the situation and agitate for change.
“We live in an age of activism. The fact that climate change tops the agenda for consumers, just days before COP 26, should be a wake-up call for all of us. In Glasgow in November, the diplomats will be under enormous pressure to deliver new carbon reduction targets and a framework for sustainable development. But business will be under equal pressure afterwards to deliver a meaningful roadmap that takes us to a green and good economy. Failure will not be tolerated by consumers.”
Andrew Adie, Head of SEC Newgate UK Green & Good states: “We have seen ESG moving from being an investor metric to becoming a strategic tool for articulating corporate purpose and impact. Yet our research shows that corporates still have some way to go if they are to bridge the credibility gap and prevent concerns around greenwashing, ethical behaviour and a lack of authenticity seeding doubts about the motives that sit behind the strategy.
“In reality many businesses are doing a lot of good work in this area but they need to win trust by having a credible plan that delivers meaningful change to timeframes that are tangible. Anything less risks looking like window dressing.”
The SEC Newgate ESG Monitor surveying more than 10,000 people in Europe, the Americas and Asia-Pacific found that in all 10 countries, climate change or the environment was the number one ESG concern. It also identified environmental issues including action on climate change and carbon neutrality as being the most powerful factors to improve public perceptions of corporates’ ESG performance. The countries surveyed were: Australia, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Singapore, the UK and the USA.
The SEC Newgate ESG Monitor found that people were strongly interested in ESG, with six in 10 rating their interest in ESG issues as high. Other key findings include strong public demand for consistent and measurable ESG reporting, significant levels of social media and buyer’s choice activism in response to poor ESG performance, and demand for all organisations to take responsibility for issues such as their supply chains and contribution to local communities.
Despite strong consumer interest in ESG issues, less than one in five people say they are willing to pay much more for products and services from organisations that are performing well on ESG metrics, (and between 21%-38% are not willing to pay any more) suggesting that consumers expect business to behave ethically and don’t expect to have to pay a premium for ethical products.
SEC Newgate CEO and founder Fiorenzo Tagliabue said: “Strong and growing community focus on ESG matters represents a fundamental challenge for corporates and governments everywhere. SEC Newgate works at the nexus of business, politics, communities and markets and we’re witnessing a sharp increase in demand for strategic advice and advocacy on ESG – the policies and behaviour relating to ESG issues and how business and government can protect and enhance their reputation in this critical space It’s why we’re launching the SEC Newgate ESG Monitor, our first global thought leadership initiative, at a global debate on October 21.”
SEC Newgate Deputy CEO EMEA Tom Parker said: “Despite unique local issues, the SEC Newgate ESG Monitor revealed a surprising degree of common ground globally. There is a widespread interest in and concern about the ethical and sustainability performance of governments and corporates. This is a truly worldwide phenomenon. The surprising consistency in these results illustrates that all local issues are global and that global issues are local.”
Sectors such as healthcare and technology came out well globally, while chemicals, technology and airlines were seen as weaker on ESG performance.
Sue Vercoe, Managing Director, SEC Newgate Research, whose team conducted the survey, said: “This is the first time we have undertaken a public perceptions study of this kind stretching across multiple countries. What is interesting is how much we learned about the community’s differing expectations towards government and corporates using regression modelling to pinpoint the specific factors that most impact ESG perceptions. There are some clear signals in this research that the public expects government to lead on issues such as the global response to climate change while expecting companies to demonstrate clear evidence that they practice what they preach.
“The global focus on ESG is being driven by individuals and consumers and their perceptions are informing their behaviour and what actions will be most effective for business and government.”