To say the least, 2020 has been a challenging year – and those challenges are having a major impact on boardrooms across the globe. Covid-19, Black Lives Matter protests, gender pay gaps and more have rightly been keeping the C-suite up at night. For those businesses that are determined to build back better, the alignment of strategy and clear communication has never been more pressing. You cannot gain the rightful benefits of having a strong set of ESG policies and practices if you fail to tell anyone about it.

That’s why we reviewed the corporate website of every company in the STOXX All Europe 100 index during August 2020, to analyse how effectively they communicate their social responsibility stories – outside of CSR reports.

ESG has been top of the corporate news for several months. As stock markets tumbled and the world retreated into lockdown, shares of companies with a strong focus on ESG were seen to outperform the rest. Soon after, attention turned to a different kind of ‘pandemic’ as global sports stars, actors and politicians added their weight behind the Black Lives Matter movement. As a society, we have never been more focused on these issues – from our impact on the environment to wellbeing, diversity and inclusion.

Many blue-chip companies would say that they have been active in this area for years; at a glance, most seem pretty polished when it comes to their ESG communications. They are adept at high-level statements and their CSR reports have become much more data rich in recent years. Indeed, those reports are often packed full of potentially great information.

So, what’s the issue if the level of content has improved? The charge from investors and other stakeholders is two-fold: a lot of these high-level statements come across as greenwashing or virtue signalling without the necessary back-up. And the content that is presented in CSR reports often lacks a strategic, storytelling thread. It relies too heavily on data and too little on context; more qualitative assessments are needed. It isn’t sufficient to just produce a great report – and then leave all the information buried within its pages when it could be spread across wider content.

Not surprisingly, there were some great communicators in the sample – and some woeful appearances, too. This report details the top-ranked companies and makes recommendations as to how others can up their game.