Who cares if you believe in ESG or not?

6 October 2022 | 5 min read | ESG
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

We’re big on the idea of market research. It is a great tool for any business to canvass the opinion of their target audience and gain a greater understanding of what people think and feel about a certain subject matter in real time.

It can inform decision making and crucially determine if a business is truly in sync with its target market or not.

From a PR perspective the insights gained can prove invaluable, not to mention create a ton of great content for your business from the humble press release and company blog, to video content and creative assets.

Want to watch this as a video instead? Click here for our three-part video series on effective ESG communications.

We do market research for ourselves too, frequently. In May, roped in over 800 business leaders and founders to answer a series of questions regarding their ESG (environmental, social and governance) intentions over the next 12 months.

The findings of the research were both fascinating and frustrating at the same time.

Pre-March 2020, less than 1 in 5 businesses in the UK had an ESG policy in place – a commitment, if you like, to operating their organisations more sustainably and positively contributing to sound societal causes.

Uptake of ESG, it seemed, was rather slow. Until that point.

And then the pandemic struck. The bottom fell out of the economy and customer purchasing decisions began to favour those businesses and brands who are green and purpose-led.

49 per cent of businesses with an ESG strategy implemented it between November 2021 and May 2022… bandwagonesqueing?

This triggered a shift in business behaviours too, and over the course of the next two years ESG graduated from being a ‘nice to have if we can be arsed’ policy to one that was a non-negotiable organisational priority.

Indeed, our figures showed that of those respondents with an ESG strategy currently in place, almost half had only just implemented it in the six months to April 2022.

So, what does this tell us?

Well, these businesses are rolling out their policies in response to growing customer demand for their product and service providers of choice to be better businesses. To be more responsible. To be relevant to what they want, need, and care about. And they’re taking to issuing press releases, video content, and other forms of owned-media as part of their ESG communications strategy.

There were signs this was happening during 2020 and into 2021 – that customer expectations – and their reasons for choosing one supplier over another – were increasingly focused on what a business says and does.

And throughout that period, business leaders and marketers continued to check the pulse of the market and what their customers were telling them.

Fast-forward to now and it is abundantly clear that the need to be a ‘good’ business is no fad, no flash in the pan. It is here to stay and that is why we are seeing a surge in businesses adopting ESG policies and things like seeking B Corp certification status. Incidentally, 28 per cent of those planning to roll out their ESG policy also aim to become a B Corp too.

OK, now the motivations for doing all of this is, for some businesses, questionable.

The research that we did of 800+ business leaders revealed that the number one reason for businesses implementing an ESG policy or desiring to become a B Corp is to improve perception of their brand and attract new customers.

The desire to be a better business that balances profit with the need for positive environmental and social impact, sadly, ranked second. (wink).

But y’know, irrespective of whether a business is truly committed or simply seeing ESG as a means to command customer attention and gain a competitive advantage, the fact still remains that customers expect more from their chosen partners.

And so businesses need to not shy away from clearly communicating what they are doing when it comes to sustainability and societal initiatives.

Right now, the economy is one of the most competitive for a generation. With the shackles of the pandemic fully removed, businesses are in overdrive in a bid to recoup some of the revenues lost during a prolonged period of lockdown and reposition themselves for growth. And this is seeing ESG communications go through the roof.

Other recent research that we have carried out found that 6 in 10 decision makers would favour a business that is green and purpose-led over a similar provider that wasn’t. And 80 per cent of them would even be prepared to pay more for their services.

6 in 10 decision makers would favour a business that is green and purpose-led over a similar provider that wasn’t.

Yes, ESG can fuel this growth and yes there are some businesses putting the pound signs ahead of the need to be better for people and planet. But to an extent that doesn’t matter, which really does pain me to say.

Forget what other businesses do and their motivations for doing it. Your focus for your business has to be on your customers and your own people because key to business growth is not how your competitors are behaving, its understanding what your internal and external customers want and need and then responding to those needs and wants through various initiatives and clear communication.

So, to answer our question, do your customers care whether you care or not about sustainability and social impact? Of course they bloody do, as should you.

Further reading on ESG communcations: