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Pandemic Pushes ESG Up the Agenda in Irish Boardrooms - ESG Leadership Survey


New survey from the Diligent Institute and Institute of Directors in Ireland shows board level discussions of environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters are up 30% since March 2020.

A new report, 'ESG Strategy, Leadership, and Integration in Irish Companies', by the Diligent Institute and the Institute of Directors (IoD) in Ireland reveals a significant increase in the discussion of environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters in Irish boardrooms since the onset of the pandemic. 

This is the first time that IoD Ireland, a leading membership body for directors and business leaders in Ireland, has partnered on a survey with the Diligent Institute, which is the research arm and think tank of Diligent Corporation, the leading governance, risk and compliance (GRC) SaaS company which employs 200 people in Galway.

Results from the survey indicate ESG is being treated with increasing importance by business leaders; 59% of respondents said that ESG is primarily dealt with at board level or a subcommittee of the board. Eight out of 10 respondents said ESG matters are discussed at board level at least once a year, whereas just over half (52%) said their board discussed ESG before March 2020.

The findings also show a general optimism that ESG will be discussed more frequently at the board level in the coming years, with 97% of respondents indicating their board will discuss ESG matters at least once a year over the next three years.

The survey was conducted amongst the IoD’s membership, some of the most senior directors and business leaders in Ireland, between the 27th September and 11th October, to understand how companies, their directors, and leadership in Ireland address ESG.

The results also reveal many companies are introducing or strengthening their ESG policies:

  • 58% say they have introduced measures to reinforce ‘strong pillars of governance’
  • 42% had introduced measures to reinforce their diversity policies 
  • 26% responded that they have introduced policies on climate change and sustainability.
  • The survey also reveals a hesitancy towards tying ESG metrics to directors’ remuneration, with just 17% of respondents saying they already do so. However, this figure is expected to more than double to 37% in 2021.

Publicly listed companies are more likely to link ESG to executive compensation, compared to private companies. Only 15% of those surveyed in privately held companies said they have tied ESG to executive compensation; while 28% of respondents from listed companies are including ESG related metrics in executive compensation.

This shows Irish companies lag significantly behind other European counterparts; on average, 34% of European companies are tying ESG to executive compensation according to another recent Diligent Institute paper.

Commenting on the results of the survey, Maura Quinn, Chief Executive of the Institute of Directors (IoD) in Ireland, said:

“From a national and global perspective, there is a greater sense of urgency regarding environmental and sustainability issues. Companies have a key role to play in society and in influencing the changes needed for the world to attain the goals set out by global leaders at events like last week’s COP26. Business leaders can lead from the front by incorporating ESG matters as a priority at the executive and board level and embedding them in corporate activity. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has marked a turning point for ESG in Irish boardrooms. Good governance has never been as important as it is now, and Irish board members have adapted to the changing needs of their stakeholders by prioritising the issues that matter most to them. The findings of this survey show encouraging progress in terms of ESG in Ireland. Going forward, ESG is set to become a main board agenda item, with an impressive 97% of our respondents indicating that ESG will feature in boardroom discussions at least once a year.”

Dottie Schindlinger, the Executive Director of the Diligent Institute commented:

“Irish boardrooms are mirroring global trends with an increasing focus on ESG. Companies are under sustained pressure to take action on ESG matters, such as climate action and social justice issues - and this pressure only increased during the pandemic. This is especially true amongst younger workers who seek out companies who share their values. Investors are also looking at sustainability and holistic ESG profiles before deciding where to put their money.”

Read the full report: ESG Strategy, Leadership, and Integration in Irish Companies