Trendiness in Corporate Talk about Social, Green Issues

Recently, I sent you some thoughts on the role and place of corporate social advocacy in a market of competing ideas, values and emotions.  What provoked my concern was an article in the Wall Street Journal.

Now, there is more of the same.

An article with the headline “Companies Seek to Avert Backlash, Avoid Talk of Social Green Issues” includes this graph:

From the article:

Companies’ mentions of green and social initiatives during earnings calls have fallen off sharply in recent quarters, reversing a more boastful approach taken over the past few years amid intensifying pressure from some investors and conservative activists.  … Finance chiefs and other executives have significantly quieted down in public settings about their environmental and employee diversity efforts as opposition has mounted from a confluence of interests: investors who want companies to focus on their operations, not the social good and conservative groups and political leaders who have seized on corporate support of such causes to rally “anti-woke” constituents—for example, calling for boycotts of brands that advertise their support of the LGBT community in the wake of recent disputes with Target and Bud Light.

“The easiest thing to do is just to stay out of the conversation and emphasize other facets of business that are going to be perceived as less controversial and more core to the traditional metrics of the business,” said Jason Jay, senior lecturer of sustainability at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Executives at U.S.-listed companies mentioned “environmental, social and governance,” “ESG,” “diversity, equity and inclusion,” “DEI” or “sustainability” on 575 earnings calls from April 1 to June 5, down 31% from the same period last year, according to data from financial-research platform AlphaSense.  That is the largest such year-over-year decline and the fifth consecutive quarter of year-over-year drops, following a pickup in these discussions and corporate social efforts in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020. 

Food for thought on what is the social function of enterprise?