Climate change concerns have taken a back seat to the cost-of-living crisis as the UK public’s primary worry, according to the latest research into environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) issues.
Communications consultancy SEC Newgate’s annual Global ESG Monitor reveals that only 30% of the public say the UK is “going in the right direction” on climate change, while just 12% have a good understanding of ESG. Only one in 10 feel highly informed about businesses’ ESG activities, yet 77% want major companies to behave like “good corporate citizens” and consider their impact on people and the planet.
The proportion of participants who feel the UK is heading in the right direction – 30% – is substantially down from last year’s report, when 52% felt that way. It is also well below the 2022 global average of 46%.
When it came to the top three priorities for the UK’s future, 52% of survey participants gave highest priority to the rising cost of living, 32% to ensuring affordable energy and fuel supplies, and 20% to secure and affordable food supplies.
Only around one in 10 UK participants feel very informed about companies’ ESG activities and performance, and only 22% actively seek such information at least sometimes; this is lower than the global result (33%). Internet search engines, company websites and TV news were the most consulted sources for ESG information.
In the UK, interest in ESG has been moderate during the past 12 months, with participants giving an average interest rating of 5.5 out of 10 – significantly lower than the 2021 figure (6.1) and the global average (6.5). SEC Newgate says this shift in focus appears to reflect heightened cost-of-living concerns.
Compared to the global average of 6.4 out of 10, people in the UK place less importance on ESG issues influencing their own day-to-day purchase decisions, with an average of 5.7. They place more importance on companies acting on ESG issues, with an average importance rating of 7.3 out of 10, against 7.6 at the global level.
Not-for-profit organisations were rated highest for their ESG performance, at 6.3 out of 10 on average, ahead of small companies (5.9) and the UK overall (5.8). Large companies (5.3) and the national government (5.1) were rated the lowest.
When asked which company actions or behaviours would genuinely make them stop or avoid using products or services, those most commonly selected by UK participants were slave or child labour (65%), corruption (58%) and tax evasion (53%).
“Our findings show that the UK is veering off course as concerns around climate change take a backseat to the cost of living,” said SEC Newgate UK chief executive officer Emma Kane. “However, the UK public still deeply cares about the environment and how companies and other organisations act.
“The British public is particularly sensitive to businesses evading tax and more than a third have a good understanding of net-zero.”