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Keeping you in-the-know on environmental, social and governance developments

Welcome back from holidays! I hope you were able to unplug, recharge and refresh for a new year.

Among 2023’s big stories was the anti-ESG movement and how it motivated companies to pivot from using the term “ESG.” BlackRock CEO Larry Fink epitomized the trend by saying the term has become weaponized. But just how much traction does the movement have? It is a topic of much discussion in conferences, but I haven’t seen much empirical data on the matter. As part of a recent collaboration between, The Conference Board and their ESG platform ESGAUGE, we can see what is really happening in the S&P 500 – and there are some surprises.

We obtained data analyzing reports from S&P 500 companies that publish some type of report on ESG, CSR or sustainability (479 companies). We looked for report title/name changes from the 2022 edition to the 2023 edition. For each year, the end of September (last quarter-end) was our cut-off date. Twenty-one (21) companies were excluded from this analysis. Of these, 13 still need to publish a sustainability report in 2023, and 8 companies submitted their inaugural full sustainability report in 2023.

Of the 479 reports evaluated,

  • Only 153 (32%) used “ESG” (or spelled it out) in the report title in 2022, compared to 148 (31%) in 2023; and
  • A mere 50 companies (10% of the total; 33% of those who used the term in 2022) changed the name of their corporate ESG, CSR or sustainability report in some way.

But here is where things get interesting – of those 50 companies that renamed their reports:

  • 21 changed the name from ESG to something else (42% of those making a change; 14% of those using the term in 2022; 4% of the total) ;
  • 15 changed the name to ESG from something else (30% of those making a change; 3% of the total); and
  • 14 didn’t use ESG in the report name for either 2022 or 2023, but changed the name anyway (28% of those making a change; 3% of the total).

Table credit: ESGAUGE

There are some surprises in the data. First off, fewer S&P 500 companies used “ESG” to begin with than I realized. Reports of the term’s ubiquity seem to have been overdone. Secondly, companies aren’t shying away from the term as much as observers claim. I found it particularly interesting that even against ESG headwinds, a full one-third of the name changes went from not using the term to using it. Now that we have empirical data on the matter, how much of a trend is pivoting from “ESG” and is it really important to spend time on it?

Thanks again to The Conference Board and ESGAUGE for the data. Stay tuned for more unique collaborations with and insights from them through 2024.

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Photo credit: piter2121 –

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile