The ESG Initiative at the Wharton School
Emerging Trends in Institutional Social Responsibility
The Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Initiative at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has released a new research report sharing insights on the current state of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and ESG investing practices among a diverse range of large U.S. for-profit and nonprofit organizations.
Titled “Emerging Trends in Institutional Social Responsibility,” the report reveals widespread adoption of CSR and ESG practices, reflecting their vital role in today’s business landscape. However, critical gaps remain in areas such as environmental sustainability, diversity programs, and ESG risk management.
“This report highlights the substantial progress made in integrating social responsibility into business operations, while also uncovering key opportunities for continued growth,” said Professor Witold Henisz, vice dean of the ESG Initiative. “To fulfill the promise of CSR and ESG, companies must fully incorporate them into their core business strategies.”
The report draws on survey data from over 400 employees at organizations with over $50 million in annual revenue. It explores their perceptions, attitudes, and actions related to key CSR focus areas such as labor standards, diversity, customer welfare, and environmental sustainability. It also examines approaches to ESG investing and associated challenges.
Key findings include:
- 92% of the sample report that their organization places high or very high priority on corporate social responsibility
- Nearly 80% agree or strongly agree with the policy of linking executive pay to progress in meeting social and environmental targets
- Over 75% state that their organization invests in a way that reflects its purpose and mission
While the prevalence of CSR and ESG adoption is encouraging, there are also important gaps to note. For example, fewer than half of respondents report that their organization has a climate action plan, while nearly half report that ESG investing has exposed their organization to new risks.
“The path ahead is filled with complex obstacles but also great potential for corporate innovation and positive impact,” Henisz added. “We hope this report spurs organizations to reflect on the degree of integration in their CSR and ESG strategies, supporting the evolution to more sustainable, responsible, and inclusive business practices.”