21 ESG Statistics Companies Should Be Paying Attention to in 2024

ESG has exploded in popularity among corporations. But how much is this widespread discourse actually influencing investments, business decisions, and legal regulations?

21 ESG Statistics Companies Should Be Paying Attention to in 2024

While interest in ESG and its flagship pillars dates back to at least the late 2010s, adoption and implementation of the sustainability framework has been rapidly accelerating over the past several years. 

Corporations in the U.S., Europe, and all over the world are increasingly aware of just how critical environmental, social, and governance concerns are to investors, customers, and other key stakeholders. As a result, companies are stepping up to tackle these challenges, whether it be through internal ESG initiatives, strategic efforts aimed at reducing carbon emissions, or due diligence measures focused on developing a clean, ethical supply chain. 

It’s important to remember that individuals approach ESG from multiple points of view. Because of this, the schema is generally interpreted in three different ways:

  • First, as a company’s internal strategy and initiatives for combating climate change and other environmental crises; ensuring fair pay, living wages, and humane working conditions for employees and workers along the supply chain; and practicing good corporate governance. 
  • Second, as a set of evaluative criteria investors apply to public companies to determine investment opportunities that are ethical and sustainable (this is sometimes also referred to as sustainable investing or socially responsible investing). 
  • Third, as a foundation for government regulations intended to instill accountability in corporate actors and encourage responsible behavior. 

Unfortunately, as the concept of ESG has exploded among businesses, consultancies, and financial institutions, it’s become harder and harder to separate the signal from the noise. As Capital Group explained in their 2022 ESG Global Study, individuals “face an information overload as they swim against a tidal wave of ESG data.” With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most compelling, meaningful statistics on ESG. These data vividly illustrate how far the framework has come, where it’s heading, and what its growing primacy could mean for your business. 

ESG in Businesses 

1. 88% of Publicly Traded Companies Have ESG Initiatives in Place 

In a survey conducted in 2020, risk management software firm Navex found that nearly 9 out of 10 publicly traded companies had internal ESG initiatives. Figures were notably lower among privately-owned firms, where only 67% of businesses had instituted such programs. 

(Source: NAVEX Global 2020 survey)

2. 94% of Executives Feel Pressure to Prioritize ESG Initiatives 

A sense of urgency to develop and implement ESG programs and policies is pervading the C-suite. Executive-focused publication CFO carried out a study in 2023 and found that all but 6% of executives felt pressure to prioritize ESG initiatives at their companies. The study also acknowledged the rise of the Corporate Equality Index, or CEI, an ESG-adjacent report published by the Human Rights Campaign that rates companies based on their treatment and inclusion of the LGBTQ community. 

(Source: CFO)

3. …But Nearly Nine out of 10 Executives Also Believe ESG Initiatives Are Critical to Their Business

While executives might be experiencing mounting pressure to incorporate the environmental, social, and governance pillars into their companies, there is also broad consensus among these corporate leaders of the framework’s importance. A recent survey by multinational accounting firm Ernst & Young asked executives how important sustainability and ESG were to their business. The overwhelming majority—87%—said that the values were either “extremely important” or “very important.” 

(Source: Ernst & Young)

4. Corporations Are Spending Nearly $700,000 Annually on Climate-Related Disclosure Activities

ESG regulations in the U.S. are still in their infancy, but businesses are already spending significantly on the granular work of measuring and analyzing climate-related activities. In a 2022 study, sustainability advisory firm ERM asked U.S. corporations about their spend on climate-related processes like carbon emissions measurements, climate scenario analysis, and risk management controls. The firm found that U.S. companies are already spending “an average of $677,000 annually on climate-related disclosure activities.”

(Source: ERM SustainAbility Institute)

5. 76% of Consumers Say They Would Cease Doing Business with a Company that Neglected ESG Principles 

A 2021 survey conducted by PwC found that over three-quarters of consumers agreed that they would discontinue their relationships with “companies that treat the environment, employees, or the community in which they operate poorly.” As countries and governing bodies all over the world continue to establish new regulations mandating ESG reporting for businesses—and therefore allow consumers to scrutinize the behavior of companies—sentiments like this will have even greater import. 

(Source: PwC)

6. Sales of Products with ESG-Related Claims Are Growing Fast

While many of us tend to think of sustainability efforts and ESG initiatives in altruistic, high-minded terms, the reality is that being able to make credible claims on these fronts is good for business. A 2023 report by Thomson Reuters cogently illustrates why. The conglomerate analyzed data from NielsenIQ and found that, over the period between 2018 and 2022, sales for products with ESG-related claims outpaced those without such claims. The difference was sizable, too: the former group’s sales experienced a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.4% during the four-year timeframe, compared with 4.7% for the latter category. 

(Source: Thomson Reuters Institute)

7. Global Spending on ESG Business Services Is Projected to Reach $65 Billion by 2027 

In 2023, businesses spent a little less than $38 billion on sustainability services. According to research firm IDC, that figure is projected to swell to $65 billion by 2027, representing a somewhat staggering compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15%. “Pressure for change is more prescient than ever,” said IDC research analyst Dan Versace, “and businesses that fail to act face risk to their brand image, financial performance, and even their infrastructure due to the ever-present threat of extreme weather events and resource shortages caused by climate change.”

IDC’s definition of ESG professional services includes consulting, engineering, and IT support designed to guide companies toward sustainability solutions that support the environmental, social, or governance pillars. 

(Source: IDC)

8. The Effects of Climate Change Are Costing the World $16 Million per Hour 

That extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change are costly is a widely accepted fact. But just how costly hasn’t always been as easily quantifiable. This is in large part because such figures require sophisticated analyses that separate catastrophic events directly attributable to climate change from the hurricanes, floods, and heat waves that have been wreaking havoc on the planet for centuries. 

A study published in Nature Communications in 2023, however, set out to make a clear delineation between those two groups and put a concrete number to the cost of climate change. According to the two researchers who conducted the study, that figure is about $143 billion a year—or roughly $16 million every single hour. 

(Source: Nature Communications)

9. Assessment Firm Sustainalytics Has Given ESG Risk Ratings to 13,000 Companies 

As the ESG framework has gained influence among publicly traded companies and the investors who sustain them, a new cottage industry has emerged to capitalize on this nascent benchmark for corporate performance. There are now myriad rating agencies that gauge how companies perform on the environmental, social, and governance pillars, including RepRisk, EcoVadis, and MSCI. Sustainalytics, one of the largest and most well-known of these assessment firms, offers ESG ratings for over 13,000 companies

10. 501 Companies Have Signed the Climate Pledge To Achieve Net-Zero Carbon Emissions

Co-founded in 2019 by Amazon and climate change organization Global Optimism, the Climate Pledge is a joint commitment by corporations to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. The commitment’s target date for carbon neutrality is a decade earlier than the 2050 goal established by the Paris Agreement at the UN Climate Change Conference in 2015. The agreement’s signatories include Mastercard, Sony, Hewlett Packard, and McKinsey & Company, among hundreds of other enterprises. 

(Source: The Climate Pledge)

11. The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals Were One of the First ESG Frameworks 

In September 2015, the UN created the “2030 Agenda,” which introduced 17 sustainable development goals (SDG) that were officially adopted by all 191 UN member nations. These concise but ambitious objectives range from “no poverty” and “zero hunger” to “reduced inequalities,” “climate action,” and “gender equality.” While many perceive the lofty objectives to be largely unattainable—at least by 2030—SDG has emerged as one of the more influential schemas for measuring and implementing ESG within corporations. 

(Source: United Nations Global Compact)

ESG in Investing 

12. 47% of Investors are Most Focused on the “E” in ESG

Though ESG is supposed to tie together issues related to the environment, human rights, and corporate integrity around the broader concept of sustainability, many investors are prioritizing their environmental concerns. The 2022 ESG study by Capital Group found that investors were allocating nearly half of their sustainability focus to the “E component of ESG.” By contrast, the social pillar received an average of 25% of investors’ focus, with governance earning 27%. 

(Source: Capital Group)

13. Nearly Half of Americans Are Interested in Pursuing Sustainable Investing—But Only a Quarter Know Where to Look 

A Gallup poll conducted in 2022 found that 48% of U.S. investors were interested in sustainable investing opportunities. Unfortunately, that considerable interest is not being matched with a corresponding level of awareness. According to the Gallup study, only 25% of investors had heard either “a lot” or a “fair amount” about sustainable investing or the financial instruments that cater to it. A mere 10% of the poll’s respondents said they were currently invested in sustainable funds. 

(Source: Gallup)

14. Inflows Into Sustainable Funds Increased 1,400% from 2018 to 2021 

Sustainable funds are funds created and managed by financial institutions that use ESG principles to evaluate potential investments and incorporate sustainability criteria into their financial decision-making. As the awareness and cachet of ESG and sustainable investing have climbed in recent years, these funds have seen a corresponding explosion in popularity and growth. In 2018, the financial instruments experienced total net inflows of $5 billion. Just three years later, in 2021, inflows vaulted to $70 billion—a growth of 1,400%. 

(Source: McKinsey & Company)

15. Europe Is Home to $2.5 Trillion of the World’s $3 Trillion in Sustainable Funds

Europe is indisputably leading the way in the nascent financial territory of sustainable investing. The continent’s collective assets in sustainable funds are now north of $2.5 trillion, a jump of nearly 40% from 2021 figures. The number represents 83% of the global total. 

16. But Americans Actually Pulled $8.7 Billion Out of These Funds in Q1 2024 

Despite the impressive worldwide growth of ESG investing over the past few years, the U.S. actually saw a net outflow from sustainable funds in the first quarter of 2024. This continued a trend first observed in 2023, when sustainable funds in the United States recorded their first-ever year of outflows. What, exactly, the unexpected reversal in sustainable investing portends is not yet entirely clear, but it does add some ambiguity to the wave of ESG exuberance. 

(Source: Morningstar 2024 Outflows; Morningstar 2023 Outflows)

ESG in Government Regulations 

17. The EU’s CSRD Will Eventually Impact 50,000 Companies

The European Commission estimates that the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which rolled out its initial phase on January 1 of this year, will eventually impact 50,000 companies. An additional independent analysis found that 10,000 of the firms affected by the CSRD—or 20%—will be foreign companies, including 3,000 American businesses. 

(Sources: Persefoni; Wall Street Journal)

18. There Are Already Nearly 2,500 ESG Disclosure Policies Worldwide 

A 2023 report by Carrots & Sticks, a joint initiative between the UN Environment Programme and KPMG International that tracks and assesses ESG regulations, identified nearly 2,500 ESG policies all over the world. While most of the provisions focused on reporting and disclosures, many also included other sustainability requirements. The report found that national governments and international governing bodies were responsible for administering nearly half of these policies, with organizations, industry groups, stock exchanges, and financial regulators issuing another 45% of the regulations. 

(Source: Carrots & Sticks)

19. But Since 2015, Only 36% of These Policies Have Been Mandatory

The same report by Carrots & Sticks pored over these ESG policies and found a seemingly counterintuitive trend emerge around 2015 (incidentally, the year the UN introduced the 17 sustainable development goals). Since 2015, only a third of all new ESG and sustainability policies have been mandatory, while 63% have been voluntary. This actually represented a stark reversal of the data collected by Carrots & Sticks in its 2020 report, which showed more mandatory policies than voluntary ones. 

The underlying takeaway is fairly clear. While discussions and rhetoric surrounding ESG may be growing exponentially, the adoption of concrete regulatory measures and disclosure requirements—CSRD notwithstanding—are moving at a more halting, nuanced pace. 

(Source: Carrots & Sticks)

20. Large EU Companies Will Pay $350,000 Annually to Comply with CSRD 

The European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG) estimates that large European companies listed in an EU-regulated market—the first group required to adhere to CSRD—will face annual compliance costs of around $350,000. The group’s report also concluded that such assurance costs “are expected to increase significantly due to more comprehensive coverage” when CSRD moves from limited to reasonable assurance requirements. That transition is expected to take place sometime over the next few years. 

(Source: EFRAG)

21. Less than a Third of Companies Are Ready for CSRD and Other ESG Regulations

The EU’s CSRD may have started its multi-year rollout in January 2024, but the majority of companies still don’t feel confident that they have the infrastructure in place to meet the data assurance requirements. 

A recent KPMG survey polled 1,000 senior executives and board members and found that only 29% of companies felt prepared for CSRD and other imminent reporting obligations. That figure actually jumped by a modest 4% from when the accounting firm posed the same question in 2023. 

(Source: KPMG)

The Costs of Sustainability—and the Unsustainability of the Status Quo—in the Age of ESG

If there are any overarching themes to be gleaned from the available data on ESG, it’s that corporate spending on sustainability efforts and climate-related disclosures is far ahead of the regulatory landscape. Businesses are facing pressure from customers, investors, international organizations, and myriad other stakeholders to enhance transparency and work toward concrete goals on decarbonization, human rights, and other ESG principles, and the result is expansive investments on these issues. As some of the above statistics indicate, it seems highly likely that we’ll eventually reach a point where the marketplace itself favors companies and products that adhere to the ESG framework—and can support their claims with verifiable evidence—and firms that disregard sustainability and ethical behavior will be punished through their bottom lines. 

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