SEC Newgate Global ESG Monitor: 2023 Research Findings

Australians demand action on ESG, despite cost-of-living pressures

The SEC Newgate Global ESG Monitor offers a unique perspective by objectively examining community expectations and identifying what influences the public perspective of corporate ESG authenticity. 

In brief:

  • There’s been a significant shift in community expectations of corporates in Australia and across the world.
  • Australians’ interest in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues is rising, despite mounting cost-of-living pressures.
  • It’s having a big impact on people’s decisions – including who they vote for, the food they eat, and the products they buy. This is particularly strong amongst younger people.
  • In a clear message to CEOs and corporate boards, three quarters think it is important for companies to take action on ESG issues – acting on their impacts on the planet and people.
  • And nearly 70 per cent support companies speaking out on social issues that are relevant and of importance to their employees and customers.
  • It’s clear that companies need to take action to meet community ESG expectations and communicate what they’re doing to maintain shareholder value

This is SEC Newgate’s third global ESG monitor that surveys people on their understanding and sentiments towards ESG. This year’s survey covers 12 countries and 12,000 respondents, 1,000 of which are based in Australia.


Residents surveyed globally


Countries and Territories


Australian sample

Australians want companies to act on ESG issues – and to tell people about it

Three in four Australians (75%) think it’s important for companies to act on ESG issues. They want companies to focus on the impacts they’re having. More than two thirds of all Australians (69%) agree that companies should speak out on issues that are important to their employees and customers.

The research suggests we are at a tipping point, with genuine action no longer up for debate. It has become increasingly clear that Australians don’t want corporate profitability and contribution to jobs and the economy to come at the expense of environmental, social and ethical obligations.

We’ve seen many corporates concerned about greenwashing default to what many describe as ‘green-hushing’ – deliberatively not talking about their environmental actions because they’re worried about being seen as ‘woke’. Our research shows that nearly seven in ten Australians (69%) want companies to communicate the results of their ESG actions clearly.
Australians’ comments about what makes for good or poor ESG performance show they value companies having a go and demonstrating they’re working to address impacts. Silence is being interpreted as inaction.

They want companies to speak out on social issues – but with caveats

While taking action on ESG issues is the main game, more than two thirds of Australians (69%) agree that companies should speak out on issues that are important to their employees and customers.

However, our qualitative research suggests that before boards and executive leaders make decisions on whether to do this, they should ask themselves three questions:

  1. Is this an issue that our employees and customers care a lot about?
  2. Do we have permission to play in this space? Do people see a relationship between the organisation and the issue?
  3. Is speaking out seen as authentic to our organisation? Do we have a genuine track record in this space?

ESG is shaping consumer and voter behaviour

A majority of all Australians say ESG issues are important when deciding who to vote for (66% rated it 7 or more out of 10, where 0 means ‘not at all important’ and 10 means ‘very important’), the types of food they eat (57%), and the types of products they buy (56%). Women, younger people, and Greens and Labor voters were more likely to say they factor ESG into their decision-making than other demographics.

Scepticism is high, with action on climate change the biggest driver of public perceptions

There remains significant scepticism over whether companies are fully on board with tackling ESG issues, with Australians calling out businesses for poor practices – including the use of too much plastic, worker exploitation, prioritising excessive profit over people and the planet, and a slow transition to sustainability. Consumers are also quick to point out recent incidents where there has been a lack of good corporate governance.

Australians believe companies are underperforming when it comes to taking action on climate change – by far the biggest driver of public perceptions of the ESG performance of large companies.

Compounding the challenge for corporates in engaging with their customers and the broader community is a continuation of the ‘Great Disconnect’, first identified in last year’s study. While there is a desire for clear and authentic communications from corporates on ESG initiatives, most Australians are not actively searching for this information – making it difficult for organisations to get cut-through. And nine in ten don’t trust what companies claim about their ESG activities or performance.

We also analysed hundreds of observations of what people think good ESG performance by Australian companies looks like. There’s a very strong theme of addressing impacts on the environment, along with working collaboratively with other organisations to address key issues – and demonstrating action, fairness, inclusion and appreciation of cost-of-living pressures. Some of these are common with other countries and some are uniquely Australian.

Compared to other countries, Australian corporates look to be lagging in ESG action

There appears to be less action by corporates in Australia on ESG issues than in other parts of the world.

In most of the 12 countries and territories we surveyed, the community gave corporates significantly higher ratings on several ESG measures this year compared to last year.

This was starkly different in Australia, where we saw a drop in perceived performance in most of these areas. This could be because Australian corporates are not doing as much as their global counterparts – or not communicating effectively about their efforts.

How do industries compare?

We asked Australians to rate the ESG performance of more than 25 industries.

The top five were education and training, agriculture, healthcare, supermarkets and grocery stores, and tourism (excluding airlines).

The bottom five were the chemical industry, gaming, social media platforms, fashion, mining and resources – then airlines.

A number of industries saw significant drops since last year and these included supermarkets and grocery stores, energy and utilities, airlines, social media platforms, and mining and resources. Cost-of-living concerns, governance issues and increased focus on renewables look to be having an impact.

Navigating the new landscape

This research provides a critical framework for how companies can implement and communicate ESG efforts authentically to build their reputation and maintain social licence.

SEC Newgate Australia offers a deep understanding of reputation, community opinion, stakeholder priorities – and how they intersect with ESG. Given the high stakes in getting this wrong, our approach is grounded in empirical data, not assumption – informing a response that is practical, actionable and bespoke. Please reach out if we can help you navigate a pathway for your organisation.

Want to know more about our findings? Download the Australian report.

You can also view the global report and other country findings here.

Want to know more? If you’re interested in arranging a briefing for your team, please contact us to register your interest.

How we can help:

SEC Newgate’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) advisory services provide a one-stop-shop to help you deepen your understanding of stakeholder expectations, prioritise and develop your response, then successfully implement it. Read more to see how our offering can help you.


Contact us for more information about the full research report.

Sue Vercoe, Managing Director, SEC Newgate Research – [email protected]

Irene Diseris, Director, SEC Newgate Research – [email protected]

Angus Trigg, Partner, SEC Newgate / ESG – [email protected]

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