Sustainability in the spotlight: Has ESG lost momentum in the boardroom?

| Kira Ciccarelli

Is ESG still a priority, or is it losing momentum?

In the last year, we’ve seen watershed moments in the world of ESG. In Europe, there has been added pressure on companies to tighten and enhance their approach to sustainability more broadly, without relying on the blanket term “ESG.” Meanwhile, in the United States, high-profile and divisive backlash has made some companies and leaders fearful to even use the term ESG. This begs the question: is ESG still a priority, has it lost momentum in the boardroom or does it just depend on where you are in the world?

In 2022, the inaugural survey and report from Diligent Institute and Spencer Stuart set out to understand how boards were structuring oversight of ESG and how companies were pivoting to address these issues. In light of how rapidly the financial and ESG climate has changed over the last year and with new insights from a much larger, more global sample of board members, this updated edition aims to shed additional light on the following:

  • Organizational approach: How are directors and companies thinking about, managing and overseeing ESG issues,
    and how has this changed in the last year? What are the biggest obstacles?
  • Boardroom action: How often do boards discuss and evaluate progress on ESG goals? What actions are boards
    taking in light of current or upcoming regulatory changes, and where do they need better insight?
  • Strategy & future state: Where are environmental and social metrics incorporated? What are the benefits? How could
    things change in the next few years?
  • Oversight structures: Where does ESG oversight sit within the board? On committees? How are these structures
  • Regional distinctions: Are there differences by geography?


Diligent Institute and Spencer Stuart surveyed 992 individual board members from April 13 to May 3, 2023, spanning public/listed, pre-IPO and other private companies across industries. U.S.-based companies account for a little less than half of the respondents (44%); about one-third (34%) represent companies based in the European Union or the U.K. (hereafter referred to as “Europe”); and the remainder represent companies based elsewhere across the globe. A full demographic breakdown can be found in the Appendix. This report contains global analysis as well as regional breakdowns comparing responses from U.S.-based company directors and Europe-based company directors. Additionally, this report contains insights from Diligent Compensation and Governance Intel and the Diligent Institute Corporate Sentiment Tracker to further contextualize the survey results. For each chart, totals may not sum to 100% due to rounding.


Key Findings


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About the Author

Kira Ciccarelli

Kira Ciccarelli

Lead Researcher of Diligent Institute

Kira Ciccarelli is the Lead Researcher at the Diligent Institute. Diligent Institute is the modern governance think tank and research arm of Diligent Corporation, the leading provider in board collaboration software. In her role, Kira works to conduct and provide high-level modern governance research to inform director decision-making and identify best practices. Before joining Diligent, Kira worked in a variety of data-driven research roles, including analyzing global aid funds to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and compiling a meta-analysis of political experimental findings for the Analyst Institute. She holds a BA in Public Policy from the College of William & Mary.