ESG Monitor finds the UK is the most pessimistic nation in global study

Public expectations for authentic and urgent action on environmental and social issues remains high despite cost-of-living pressures, according to research. A survey spanning 12 countries highlights how inaction, combined with silence about their efforts, could cost businesses their customers.

The third annual ESG Monitor from SEC Newgate, the global strategic communications, advocacy and research group, found that there has been a sharp increase in community interest in ESG issues, despite widespread concern about cost-of-living pressures.

In the UK, only a quarter (26%) of respondents feel that the UK is, overall, ‘on the right track’, with three quarters (74%) stating that they think the country is heading in the wrong direction. This is the lowest of any of the countries surveyed in the ESG Monitor, with the UK significantly more pessimistic than European and international counterparts.

Although ‘ESG’, as a term, appears to lack meaning for the UK general public, expectations for corporate action on ESG have increased, with 70% of people think it is important for companies to take action on ESG and 63% think companies should speak out on issues that are important to their employees and customers.

Despite high expectations on companies to take action on ESG issues and initiatives, only a third (31%) believe companies in the UK are using their power and influence for positive change.

Speaking on the findings, Fiorenzo Tagliabue, Group CEO of SEC Newgate, said: “We know some companies are staying quiet about their actions because they’re worried about being accused of being ‘woke’.

“The clear thread that runs through our ESG Monitor in 2021 and 2022, and which is confirmed in the 2023 report, is that people care deeply about ESG and they expect corporates to show leadership in delivering positive environmental and social outcomes.

“The public wants action and wants companies to talk about what they’re doing. They think being a chief executive means acting like a leader. Shying away from taking a position on issues that are important to their customers and employees is no longer an option.”

The ESG Monitor also takes a pulse check on the public’s view of the government’s performance when it comes to acting responsibly on ESG issues. The overall rating of the UK government has dropped significantly, down seven per cent since 2022, with only 24% saying that it is doing a ‘7 out of 10’ job or better.

Just over a fifth of people (23%) feel that large companies are performing well when it comes to acting responsibly on ESG, but 60% feel they cannot trust their companies claims that overall purpose is more importance than making a profit. Almost half (49%) don’t trust what companies claim about their ESG activities or performance, a significant increase of 6% since 2022.

The issue of trust is further exposed by the salience of ‘greenwashing’ with 58% of respondents rating ‘greenwashing’ as a big problem in the UK.