Companies Talking More About Sustainable Development, Employees and Causes, Less About Diversity, According to 3BL Content Analysis

May 17, 2023 8:30 AM ET
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NORTHAMPTON, Mass., May 17, 2023 /3BL Media/ - U.S. corporations continued to communicate on a wide range of sustainability topics in the first quarter of 2023, despite signs that environmental, social and governance (ESG) will be a divisive issue in the 2024 presidential election, according to research from 3BL.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion was the leading topic, but fell slightly to 311 flexible media releases (FMRs) distributed by 3BL from January through March, versus 315 in the same period a year earlier.

“Claims of greenwashing appear to be overblown, though there is evidence that brands may not be communicating externally as much on social equity topics as they have over the past three years,” said Dave Armon, CEO of 3BL, whose 3BL Professional software platform distributes sustainability news on behalf of hundreds of companies and nonprofits to a global audience of investors, employee recruitment sites, consumers, ratings agencies and other stakeholders.

Stories about Philanthropy & Cause Initiatives rose 16 percent to 242 from 208 in the first quarter, versus the same period in 2022. A similar pattern was noted during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when companies announced commitments to build ventilators and supply medical workers with personal protective equipment.

The narrative from corporate America about Responsible Business & Employee Engagement grew 29 percent, from 156 to 202, the 3BL content analysis revealed.

The steepest first-quarter increase in any topic category involved companies referencing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – up 147 percent from 30 FMRs in 2022 to 74 from in the recent quarter.

“This September will mark the halfway point for the SDGs, which were launched in 2015 to enlist businesses, NGOs and governments to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity,” said Armon. “We’re seeing more communication about the SDGs ahead of that.”

The slight plateau in messaging concerning diversity, equity and inclusion followed several years of steady growth. The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May 2020 prompted dozens of corporate statements condemning police brutality and racism, and marked the first support of Black Lives Matter by the business community.