Over the last five years, the conversation around environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues across Corporate America has grown louder than ever before. ESG has transformed from a buzzword into a key part of corporate strategy for companies. Furthermore, investors are putting tremendous pressure on companies to address their ESG practices in a manner that fosters long-term value creation and awareness for critical non-financial issues. According to the 2022 EY Global Corporate Reporting Survey, 78% of investors believe companies should invest in improvements relating to ESG matters, even if it reduces profits in the short-term.
As a result of the mounting pressure to address ESG across Corporate America, reporting and disclosure focused on ESG matters have come under the spotlight. On March 21, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed new rule changes that would require companies to provide detailed disclosures around climate-related risks that may have a material impact on their business, strategy, results of operations or financial condition. The proposed rules would also require public companies to provide additional disclosures regarding their board and management’s oversight of climate-related risks, processes for identifying, assessing and managing climate-related risks, and climate-related targets and goals.
Climate and sustainability reporting primarily focuses on the “E” in ESG and comprises just a portion of the pie. The demand for better treatment of employees, equality in pay, workforce diversity and an awareness of critical societal issues are also areas of concern that investors and stakeholders seek greater transparency in the form of disclosure. To get a better understanding of the impact of these trends, Equilar examined the prevalence of ESG disclosures among the 100 largest U.S. companies by revenue (Equilar 100) over the last five years.
According to the Equilar analysis, the percentage of companies that discussed their ESG policies to some level of degree in the proxy soared from 18.9% in 2018 to 96.9% in 2022 (Figure 1). Meanwhile, detailed disclosures of ESG policies have become a majority practice among Equilar 100 companies over the past five years, growing from 6.3% prevalence in 2018 to 63.9% prevalence in 2022. Given the rise of ESG on corporate agendas, the significant jump in detailed, thorough disclosures identified in proxies over the last few years may not come to a surprise to most.
Figure 1: ESG Disclosure Prevalence (Equilar 100)
As more Equilar 100 companies elected for full disclosures, 2022 was the first year of the study that saw a decrease in the percentage of companies that merely mentioned their ESG policies, declining from 38.1% to 33%. Additionally, the percentage of companies that provided a full disclosure of ESG practices became more prevalent than those companies that provided a small mention of those practices in 2020 with the trend continuing over the last two years.
With the SEC largely expected to finalize new climate disclosure requirements this year, detailed ESG disclosures will certainly become the standard as investors seek greater transparency in this age of social and environmental awareness. The next two years will shed more light on this trend and paint a clear picture of not only how companies will tell their ESG stories, but also how much detail they will share around those respective practices.
Director of Content & Communications at Equilar
Amit Batish, Director of Content & Communications at Equilar, authored this post. Please contact Amit Batish at email@example.com for more information on Equilar research and data analysis.