For those in the U.S., welcome back from stuffing turkeys and yourselves. Today, I move from Thanksgiving to trust-giving. Earlier this year, Liz blogged about the Edelman Trust Barometer gauging the general public’s feelings about what information sources are trustworthy. At the beginning of 2021, survey results spanning 28 countries indicated that the general public put more faith in companies than any other information source. Although the general public places their trust in corporations, investors seem less willing to do so – at least with regard to ESG information.

Last week, Edelman issued the 2021 Trust Barometer Special Report: Institutional Investors. In this report, 700 institutional investors were polled in eight countries this summer. Some of the more interesting results from the report include:

  • When asked if companies frequently overstate or exaggerate their ESG achievements, 82% globally and 86% in the U.S. agree.
  • The Top 3 topics about which investors have the least trust: DEI progress (53%); climate risk management (52%); and greenhouse gas emissions (46%).
  • 72% of polled investors globally and 62% in the US do not trust companies to meet their ESG commitments. Furthermore, 91% of U.S. investors surveyed specifically look for instances where companies do not deliver on their ESG commitments.
  • Looking to climate commitments, 79% of investors globally and 92% in the U.S. believe that companies are not effectively executing their Net Zero commitments.
  • 87% of polled investors globally and 94% in the U.S. expect litigation to increase when companies do not deliver on their ESG commitments.
  • 95% of respondents stated they are interested in taking a more activist approach to investing. As one way of doing this, 88% globally and 94% in the U.S. proactively engage with activist investors to effect change at companies.

The report contains much more in its 39 pages presented in a format that is easy to digest (perfect for after Thanksgiving).

What this Means

No recommendations are included, but building trust is about making reasonable ESG commitments, executing on them and communicating externally using validated data.

This isn’t setting a low bar for performance that can be easily met. Stretch goals can still be established. The point is to be candid about relevant limitations – such as supply chain issues, internal technical challenges, knowledge gaps, cost implications, etc. The more specific you can be in ESG commitments, the better. Grandiose and generic “we’re on the bandwagon, too” ESG pledges are more likely to be counterproductive than valuable.

Execute on the commitments you have made. It isn’t prudent to set expectations you have no intention of meeting. In communicating progress, use validated ESG data. External validation is not your only choice as I have written about previously. Investors are doing their own validation by checking multiple sources to monitor how much progress companies are making towards their goals.

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