By Brett Christenson, Assistant Clinical Professor of Marketing, and Tessa Recendes , Assistant Professor of Management and Organization

With the American political climate marked by increasing polarization between Democrats and Republicans, many might draw quick conclusions about the “left” and “right” when it comes to support for sustainability efforts commonly referred to as ESG (environment, social, and governance).

For example, one might believe that Democrats are more concerned with environmental issues such as climate changes while Republicans are significantly less concerned or perhaps even apathetic to such issues. However, these general political stereotypes underestimate the nuance of peoples’ beliefs within political parties, and this nuance can build consensus rather than division.

For many issues, younger Americans appear to be divided from similarly leaning but older constituents, while more aligned on ESG with similarly aged peers across the aisle. This effect is most significant for those under the age of 45, with both Democrats and Republicans in this age cohort agreeing on several sustainability issues. This indicates that younger stakeholders are not only becoming more conscious of sustainability but are also more similar in regard to what they feel businesses should do.

The rise of conscious stakeholders means constituents want the companies they buy from, invest in, and work for to be more sustainable — committed to bettering the environment and society. This means companies’ actions matter to consumers as well as policy makers and to meet stakeholders’ expectations, companies must adapt to put ESG initiatives in the forefront of their strategies and their messaging.

So, how do companies effectively and efficiently balance a shifting political divide while still connecting with stakeholders through ESG efforts?

It’s recommended that brands take a tailored stakeholder approach which leverages proactive messaging on relevant platforms and engage senior managers as credible messengers on issues that align with core operations. Consumers regularly indicate they want companies to make commitments to ESG efforts and show progress toward them. This sentiment resonates across political party lines, so messages which emphasize shared ideals and values among stakeholder groups should be more effective than messages which appeal to partisanship.

A well-crafted and implemented ESG strategy will not only allow a company to be a good corporate citizen, but it can be an effective way to connect with consumers, constituents, and elected officials toward advancing public policy goals.

Photo by Steve Tressler