Modern Governance

Pandemic Pushes ESG Up the Agenda in Irish Boardrooms - ESG Leadership Survey

New survey from the Diligent Institute and Institute of Directors in Ireland shows board level discussions of environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters are up 30% since March 2020

Dublin, 18 November 2021 A new report by the Diligent Institute and the Institute of Directors (IoD) in Ireland reveals a significant increase in the discussion of environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters in Irish boardrooms since the onset of the pandemic.

This is the first time that IoD Ireland, a leading membership body for directors and business leaders in Ireland, has partnered on a survey with the Diligent Institute, which is the research arm and think tank of Diligent Corporation, the leading governance, risk and compliance (GRC) SaaS company which employs 200 people in Galway.

Results from the survey indicate ESG is being treated with increasing importance by business leaders; 59% of respondents said that ESG is primarily dealt with at board level or a subcommittee of the board. Eight out of 10 respondents said ESG matters are discussed at board level at least once a year, whereas just over half (52%) said their board discussed ESG before March 2020.

The findings also show a general optimism that ESG will be discussed more frequently at the board level in the coming years, with 97% of respondents indicating their board will discuss ESG matters at least once a year over the next three years.

The survey was conducted amongst the IoD's membership, some of the most senior directors and business leaders in Ireland, between the 27th September and 11th October, to understand how companies, their directors, and leadership in Ireland address ESG.

The results also reveal many companies are introducing or strengthening their ESG policies:

  • 58% say they have introduced measures to reinforce 'strong pillars of governance'
  • 42% had introduced measures to reinforce their diversity policies
  • 26% responded that they have introduced policies on climate change and sustainability.


The survey also reveals a hesitancy towards tying ESG metrics to directors' remuneration, with just 17% of respondents saying they already do so. However, this figure is expected to more than double to 37% in 2021.

Publicly listed companies are more likely to link ESG to executive compensation, compared to private companies. Only 15% of those surveyed in privately held companies said they have tied ESG to executive compensation; while 28% of respondents from listed companies are including ESG related metrics in executive compensation.

This shows Irish companies lag significantly behind other European counterparts; on average, 34% of European companies are tying ESG to executive compensation according to another recent Diligent Institute paper.

Dottie Schindlinger, the Executive Director of the Diligent Institute commented: 'Irish boardrooms are mirroring global trends with an increasing focus on ESG. Companies are under sustained pressure to take action on ESG matters, such as climate action and social justice issues - and this pressure only increased during the pandemic. This is especially true amongst younger workers who seek out companies who share their values. Investors are also looking at sustainability and holistic ESG profiles before deciding where to put their money.'

Commenting on the results of the survey, Maura Quinn, Chief Executive of the Institute of Directors (IoD) in Ireland, said: 'From a national and global perspective, there is a greater sense of urgency regarding environmental and sustainability issues. Companies have a key role to play in society and in influencing the changes needed for the world to attain the goals set out by global leaders at events like last week's COP26. Business leaders can lead from the front by incorporating ESG matters as a priority at the executive and board level and embedding them in corporate activity. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has marked a turning point for ESG in Irish boardrooms. Good governance has never been as important as it is now, and Irish board members have adapted to the changing needs of their stakeholders by prioritising the issues that matter most to them. The findings of this survey show encouraging progress in terms of ESG in Ireland. Going forward, ESG is set to become a main board agenda item, with an impressive 97% of our respondents indicating that ESG will feature in boardroom discussions at least once a year.'

Read the full report here.

Notes to Editor

  • The survey is based upon the responses of 262 members of the IoD, representing independent directors, non-executive directors, executive directors, senior management, and corporate secretaries. 34% of those surveyed work with an organisation with more than 250 employees. The questionnaire was administered to respondents in private companies, public companies, state/semi-state bodies and non-Governmental organisations. Respondents coming from the private market and public companies accounted for approximately 54% and 24% of our sample respectively. Sector-wise, the highest percentage of our respondents came from the financial sector at 27%. The lowest sector indicated was the materials sector, accounting for less than 2% of our respondents. As expected, a large percentage of our respondents (73%) indicated that their companies are headquartered in Ireland. Another 9% indicated that they are elsewhere outside the EU and the United Kingdom.
  • The stat 'on average 34% of European companies are tying ESG to executive compensation' is available from a Diligent Institute report titled, Aligning Pay, People and Planet (2021).


About the Institute of Directors in Ireland

The Institute of Directors (IoD) in Ireland is a dynamic members' network drawn from companies large and small in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. As the foremost voice in the debate on improving corporate governance standards, IoD Ireland is dedicated to developing and improving the effectiveness and performance of directors and boards throughout Ireland. Our key focus is the professional development of our members by offering key services such as: director training; board services, such as the Boardroom Centre and Board Evaluation Service; access to insight and expertise through online and print resources; and networking opportunities through inspirational events.

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About Diligent Institute

Diligent Institute seeks to help corporate leaders be more effective by providing cutting-edge insights on corporate governance, by amplifying the voices of diverse corporate leaders, and by sharing broadly all that we are learning about modern governance practices. Founded in 2018, Diligent Institute serves as the global corporate governance research arm and think tank of Diligent Corporation, the largest SaaS software company in the Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) space. We produce original research both on our own and in collaboration with partners, including institutions of higher education and thought leaders in the corporate governance space. Diligent Institute is funded solely by Diligent Corporation.

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About Diligent

Diligent is creating and leading the modern governance movement. Serving nearly 1 million users from over 25,000 customers around the world, our innovative technology gives leaders a connected view of governance, risk, compliance and ESG across their organisation. We spark the insights they need to make better decisions and lead with purpose. Diligent has hired 200 people in Ireland since it announced in November 2020 that it was establishing its European Hub in Galway. Its new state of the art office will open in Bonham Quay in 2022.

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Media Contact:
Sarah Meade
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