Only 23% of the public take ESG claims at face value, report says


Sensu’s Greenwashing Research Report shows that only 23% of the public take Environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) claims at face value, while 14% of people said they typically disbelieve them.

According to the report, 30% of respondents expect ESG claims to have been exaggerated and 71% don’t think that the claim is likely to have been verified or checked by an independent expert or regulator.

The public’s trust in ESG also varies between sectors, the report found; supermarkets, major retailers, technology companies and food or drink manufacturers are most likely to be believed.

The report found the public is much “less likely” to trust claims from airlines, car manufacturers and fashion brands.

62% of respondents said they were likely or very likely to believe commentary from independent experts, such as the Energy Saving Trust or similar organisations.

Next most likely to be believed were international organisations, such as the UN (56% likely or very likely to believe), as well as pressure groups like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth (55%).

Only 8% agreed that most businesses currently do enough for the environment.

From the media, national broadcast media reports were seen as the most trustworthy (53%) alongside national broadsheet media (43%).

Just under a quarter of employees (23%) said that the organisation for which they work had been accused of greenwashing, with 8% saying that this had happened multiple times.

In just under half of these reported cases, respondents could point to specific harm caused to their organisation. This harm could be the organisation’s reputation being damaged; for example, negative customer reviews (15%), customer complaints (13%) or loss of stakeholder trust (7%).

In other cases, they could point to immediate financial loss; for example, customers leaving in favour of a competitor (9%), financial losses (9%), weakened share value (6%), loss of market share (4%) or loss of investment (3%).

93% of consumers said that they had seen what they believed to be an example of greenwashing within the last month.

Most common were organisations that claimed to be sustainable without any facts or figures to justify the claim (33%). This was followed by misleading advertising (32%) or false or exaggerated recycling claims (30%).

59% of consumers said that they have changed their behaviour in some way because of perceived examples of greenwashing. The most common way was for respondents to reduce the amount of money spent with that organisation (23%), with 15% saying that they have boycotted a brand entirely as a result or switched to an alternative provider with better eco credentials (13%).

89% of the public said that they cared about the environmental stance of businesses and brands. 86% wanted an increase in their level of transparency on environmental matters.

Only 8% agreed that most businesses currently do enough for the environment.

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