By Antonio Ortolani, Director with Brunswick Insight in New York. Additional reporting by Hannah Rückel, Associate with Brunswick Insight & Digital in San Francisco, and Zayd Mabruk, Associate with Brunswick Insight in Dallas.
Brunswick Insight analysis examines the voices driving the ESG conversation.
ESG has seen a 150% increase in news coverage over the past two years, according to Dow Jones Factiva. But who, or what, actually drives that coverage? Brunswick Insight conducted audience-driven research to find out.
Identifying the ESG Influencers
We identified the leading English-language ESG voices on Twitter from every continent. From there, we used keyword searches and machine learning to build an online audience panel of more than 1,000 influencers.
The top 10 influencers ranked by digital engagement averaged 86,000 followers and included a former portfolio manager, academics, climate scientists, a best-selling author, and a US member of Congress. The rest of the panel was populated by prominent journalists, senior executives, industry experts, climate activists, investors—names familiar to anyone actively following ESG-related conversations.
This group of influencers generated over 30% of all Twitter-related conversation around ESG over the past six months. In other words, we found that a relatively small group—Twitter has more than 187 million users—exerted outsized influence on a global conversation.
What They’re Talking About
Our analysis found the wider conversation focused less on individual companies and brands than it did on broader topics and ongoing debates. These high-level issues all involved some combination of sustainability, climate change, and technology. To name just a few:
- Sustainable finance
- CSR and what it means
- Net zero and its feasibility
- Electric vehicles
- Artificial intelligence and machine learning
We then looked at these current debates as a measure of where the conversation might be heading. The following themes and questions stood out:
- Can ESG affect climate change while still offering a return-on-investment?
- Has the pandemic set the stage for ESG and greater “green” outcomes?
- How can we combat “greenwashing,” where companies overstep the truth regarding their sustainability and environmental efforts? Some argue AI can help validate or disapprove a company’s ESG claims.
- What is the role of cryptocurrencies, particularly given the power they consume?
The Lessons for Business
Since the ESG conversation tends to focus on broad issues rather than individual actions, companies face long odds if they want their ESG efforts to grab the spotlight—even if they have influencers amplify their story.
For companies already participating in the discussion, our analysis suggests their content would perform better—and gain a bit of traction among the most prominent voices in the space—if they made it less about themselves.
For companies considering joining in, many would be well-advised to actively monitor the space for the moment. The unforgiving nature of online discussions, coupled with the lack of consensus around some core components of ESG, don’t create the friendliest environment for companies to wade into. Listening enables businesses to better understand the ESG conversation as well as the voices shaping it before deciding to offer their own.