Survey says: ESG is good for business

New research suggests companies can advance sustainability and social justice goals without sacrificing financial performance

why esg matters to companies

To understand how businesses are balancing the pursuit of profit with sustainability and social justice concerns, ServiceNow and ThoughtLab surveyed 1,000 global executives in manufacturing, telecom, healthcare, financial services, and the public sector.

Survey respondents were evaluated on whether they had developed an ESG vision, strategy, and budget; communicated their strategy to stakeholders; developed metrics to track progress; harnessed technology to support ESG efforts; and other criteria.

Based on their responses, they were grouped into beginners, intermediates, and leaders on an ESG maturity curve.

The full report is available to download. Here are some highlights from the study:

Executives

64% of executives surveyed say their ESG programs help them attract and retain talent and deliver better financial results.

61% said digital innovation is key to realizing ESG goals, and more than half reported ESG as a top priority for the C-suite and the board.

Most executives polled are focused on the environmental sustainability part of ESG. Beginners are especially interested in reducing carbon emissions. Environmental issues are followed closely by social issues on executives’ agendas.

64%

Percentage of executives who say their ESG programs help to attract and retain talent and deliver better financial results.

In a historically tight labor market, more than half of businesses reported focusing on delivering educational and upskilling opportunities for employees, adopting more ethical business standards, and providing better work conditions.

Top ESG goals for organizations:

  • 1st: Reduce carbon emissions
  • 2nd: Switch to renewable energy sources
  • 3rd: Educate the workforce
  • 4th: Adopt ethical business standards
  • 5th: Improve work conditions

Companies

Organizations are finding that the right ESG strategies can yield real financial and business benefits.

Almost half of executives polled reported that meeting sustainability and similar goals made their companies more innovative. It also increased revenue growth and value for shareholders.

Leaders saw more business benefits compared to intermediates and beginners.

Biggest difference in benefits now for leaders vs. beginners

60%

The number of CX leaders who reported being unable to find sufficient skilled talent.

Interestingly, improving data security/privacy was the most common action by companies to achieve their ESG goals. Safeguarding user data and privacy is a key part of governmental and regulatory compliance (the “G” in ESG). Not surprisingly, leaders are far ahead of others in this regard.

What ESG leaders prioritize:

  • 77% of leaders are investing in greater data security/privacy compared to 47% of non-leaders.
  • 61% of leaders are working to create an ESG-supportive corporate culture versus 34% of non-leaders
  • 44% of leaders are improving health and safety standards at their companies, while only 20% of non-leaders are doing so.
  • 39% of leaders are making their buildings and plants energy efficient compared with 23% of non-leaders.
  • 37% of leaders are adopting circular economy and zero waste measures compared with 26% of non-leaders.

Industries

The manufacturing industry is the furthest along in achieving ESG goals, while the public sector and telecoms are the least advanced. Overall, larger companies in their sectors are more mature than smaller ones. Most companies fall somewhere in the middle, indicating that businesses from all verticals are making progress on ESG but still have more to do.

ESG maturity by industry

Most respondents agreed that setting and meeting ESG targets requires quick access to accurate data. To that end, organizations are prioritizing data security and advanced data management and analytics tools to do so. Achieving net-zero carbon emissions is another top goal across all industries polled, as is hiring and retaining talent needed to meet ESG targets.