Big U.S. companies are increasingly talking up environmental, social and governance factors on earnings calls—and betting that investors increasingly concerned with social responsibility will reward them for it.
Twenty-four companies in S&P 500 mentioned the acronym “ESG” on earnings conference calls between June 15 and Sept. 14, double the number that cited the term in the first quarter, according to FactSet.
That marks a huge increase from just two years earlier, when only two companies referred to ESG in the second quarter of 2017. But it still represents only 5% of the companies in the index.
The financial sector had the highest number of companies mentioning ESG, followed by the real-estate and utilities sectors.
Delta Air Lines Inc. talked about eliminating single-use plastic products from its airplanes and lounges. BlackRock Inc. said sustainable ETFs are a strategic growth area. Oil-and-gas producer EOG Resources Inc. cited its use of recycled production water in the Permian Basin. That goodwill has yet to be reflected in the share prices of companies promoting ESG.
The Xtrackers S&P 500 ESG ETF, an ESG-focused fund that draws from the universe of the S&P 500, has gained 3% since the fund’s inception in late June, slightly above the performance of the broad stock-market index.
“As we go forward, there’s going to be more pressure on companies to do something about their climate-change story,” Occidental Petroleum Corp. President and CEO Vicki Hollub said on the company’s Aug. 1 earnings call.
There may be reason for executives to increasingly speak to the concerns of ESG-interested investors.