Survey: Nearly half of UK workers feel sustainability and profits can grow hand-in-hand

A quarter of UK workers would by "unwilling" to sacrifice profitability for the sake of higher environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards, although almost half feel that standards can be improved alongside benefits to a company's bottom line.

A survey of 500 UK workers, of which more than half were in senior management positions or higher, examined worker attitudes to ESG issues in relation to company profitability. According to the survey, 47% of respondents believe that companies can improve ESG standards without sacrificing profitability.

The research was commissioned by public relations firm Citigate Dewe Rogerson and the Better Society Awards, and found that 52% of respondents feel that companies should consider ESG as a key business issue because it is “morally the correct thing to do”.

“Many companies now can see that their organisation’s ESG position is driving higher long-term profitability,” the Better Society Awards’ director Mark Evans said. “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.”

The research, which surveyed respondents comprising of owners, chief executives and directors amongst other staff, found that just two in five UK works believe that ESG issues have increased in importance in their company over the last five years. Only 2% believe that concerns have been reduced.

While 12% believe that profits should be impacted if necessary to raise ESG standards, a quarter would be unwilling to neglect profitability in order to improve ESG. However, 28% feel that ESG issues should be considered to legally protect the company, and 26% feel that ESG is “ultimately necessary” to be more successful.

Issues still remain about company efforts to highlight ESG work. More than half of respondents claim their company does not publicise ESG activities, and 27% claim to have no idea whether ESG approaches will be improved.

Citigate Dewe Rogerson’s managing director Jonathan Flint added: “Public consciousness of ESG issues continues to rise, putting ever more pressure on companies to demonstrate good behaviour.

“Despite this, 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.”

The price is right

The idea that companies and nations can decouple their environmental impacts from profits has been strengthened in recent years. In total, 21 countries have experienced economic growth while reducing nation carbon footprints. For businesses, both PwC and Interserve have highlighted that this trend is possible.

Financial institutions are actively attempting to strengthen the business case for ESG, by offering loans and implementing new portfolio standards that account for climate-related risks. It is hoped that these efforts will eventually protect up to $6.9trn in controlled assets that are covered by investors with little to no (ESG policy.

Recently, Philips agreed to a pioneering €1bn loan in collaboration with banking group ING, to place an interest rate dependent on the year-on-year advance of the global lighting firm’s sustainability performance.

Matt Mace

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