Businesses in the Thames Valley face increasing pressure to address environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues, but their good intentions need to be backed with more robust planning and better reporting, says accounting network Grant Thornton UK.
According to a survey run by the firm, the importance of ESGs is widely recognised in the region’s business community, but there are significant knowledge gaps around ESG measuring and reporting, which is limiting progress.
Almost all (90%) of the canvassed mid-sized businesses working in Thames Valley considered a strong ESG strategy to be a significant factor in their company’s overall value creation. Over 80% of survey participants also considered a strong ESG plan to play a significant role in an organisation's ability to obtain funding. More than two thirds of respondents (69%) said that their environmental performance directly impacts customer buying decisions, with the same proportion (69%) agreeing that their social impact has a direct impact on talent retention and attraction. A total 67% think potential ethical issues in their supply chain would pose significant reputational risk to the business.
Yet, many of the businesses surveyed are not delivering on fundamental measurement and reporting, with over a third (35%) having not calculated their carbon emissions for the last year and almost half (43%) not having set a net-zero strategy.
Growing stakeholder pressure is also driving increased attention on ESG issues. Only 2% of respondents said they felt no pressure at all from stakeholders on environmental and social issues.
The main barrier to Thames Valley businesses progressing their ESG agenda, the research finds, is lack of senior management support. This is followed closely by a lack of understanding of what is required and a lack of resource.
Jim Rogers, practice leader for Grant Thornton in the Thames Valley, said: "ESG reporting continues to increase in importance for all businesses as stakeholders, from investors to employees, demand increased transparency around environmental and societal impact.
"Businesses in our region clearly recognise the critical need for action and are enthusiastic about their own efforts. These results show, however, that many lack direction and do not have a proper understanding of how and where to invest resources that will drive change. Activity needs to be led from the top and it's important that Thames Valley business leaders are supported in developing a deeper understanding of their responsibility and the practical actions that need to be taken to embed ESG into their overall business strategy."
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Grant Thornton offers assurance, tax, and advisory services. The UK member firm is part of a global network that employs 58,000 people in 135 countries. The UK Grant Thornton member firm is led by 190 partners and employs over 4,500 of the professionals.