SAN FRANCISCO —Despite intensifying ESG backlash, most Americans continue to favor companies taking action to promote the greater good, new research from Allison+Partners shows.

More than half of 1,001 survey participants (56%) said they have positive views of the term ESG and nearly two-thirds (65%) want companies to continue their environmental, social and governance action.

The results skew even higher for millennials; 71% have positive viewpoints on ESG and 75% want companies to continue making progress, according to the research, which A+P conducted in conjunction with sister agency Headstand.

All of which points to the widespread belief that there are financial and brand benefits for companies authentically taking ESG action, A+P said. Two-thirds (66%) of Americans feel better about companies that are addressing social and environmental issues, while on the flipside, nearly half (47%) said if they learned of a company addressing topics like sustainability but not talking about it publicly, they would question that company’s authenticity. 

“In the many years I have been leading research and reporting on environmental, social and governance topics, the mandate from American stakeholders to address these areas has only grown,” said executive VP Whitney Dailey, who co-leads the Purpose Center of Excellence at Allison+Partners. “While some may want to continue the debate to advance certain agendas, it’s clear that consumers want to continue seeing authentic action to protect their planet and communities.”

Despite Americans’ positive sentiment and conviction, the "Redefining ESG: Rhetoric vs. Reality" report unearthed continued confusion around the use and definition of the term ESG. Only 13% of Americans today felt “extremely confident” they could define ESG.

Yet, when confusing acronyms are set aside, Americans were near unanimous in their support for corporate action:  99% for lean and safe drinking water; 98% for reducing pollution/creating clean air; 98% for supporting communities; 98% for human rights; 98% for running an ethical company; and 97% for anti-corruption.

Further, many Americans believe companies should be steadfast in their commitments, even in the face of potential backlash. For instance, more than half (53%) of Americans said they would stop buying from a brand if it stopped environmental action due to political pressure.

When it comes to the environment, 58% of Americans say they are more concerned about company’s environmental impact than they were in the past, and only a quarter (24%) said they do not actively look for information on a company’s sustainable initiatives when making a purchase. 

Companies should be aware this growing segment of American consumers is also increasingly skeptical of unsubstantiated environmental claims, A+P said.  Only a quarter (25%) of Americans say they have not spotted greenwashing in their everyday shopping, and even more Americans are likely to say the influx of greenwashing has made them question environmental claims (56%). 

“The rise in greenwashing and confusion around terms and messages means that companies must be more specific and exacting in their communications,” said executive VP Aaron Pickering, co-lead of the Purpose Center of Excellence at Headstand. “Companies should tailor messages about their environmental and social impact efforts to individual stakeholder audiences and, when possible, talk about what has been changed in the short term as opposed to your plans far into the future.”