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ESG label shunned amid political polarisation

Data doesn’t suggest companies are pulling back from ESG initiatives but caution may be linked to increasingly toxic US debate

The ESG (environment, social and governance) label has fallen out of fashion. BlackRock chief executive Larry Fink, who has long championed ESG, said recently he will no longer use the “weaponised” term, saying it’s “misused by the far left and the far right”.

Companies seemingly share his concerns. FactSet data shows only 74 S&P 500 companies mentioned the term ESG on their recent earnings calls – the lowest number since mid-2020, and well down from the peak (156) in late 2021. The number of companies citing ESG on earnings calls has declined in four of the past five quarters.

Similarly, AlphaSense data shows mentions of terms such as ESG, “sustainability”, and “diversity, equity and inclusion” are down sharply on last year.

Earlier FactSet research found companies making progress on ESG initiatives and firms with higher ESG scores were more likely to talk about ESG on earnings calls. Might the recent shortfall indicate companies are falling short on ESG and are therefore ignoring the subject? Maybe, but data doesn’t suggest companies are pulling back on ESG initiatives. Rather, it’s more likely linked to increasingly toxic US debates around ESG.


Both BlackRock and Vanguard have been pressured by conservative activists who decry ESG as woke capitalism. ISS Corporate Solutions data shows the number of anti-ESG resolutions on corporate ballots has risen fivefold over the past three years. US companies may well believe in what Fink describes as “conscientious capitalism”, but they’re increasingly reluctant to talk about it.

Proinsias O'Mahony

Proinsias O'Mahony

Proinsias O’Mahony, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes the weekly Stocktake column