With many businesses struggling to stay afloat through the Covid-19 pandemic, what has happened to their sustainability ambitions? ING asked companies and investors to find out. ING research shows that companies have actually accelerated their green transformation plans, and investors are demanding harder environmental targets. At the same time, there must be greater transparency about progress and performance and stronger accountability to ensure commitments are met. This comes from a survey of 450 companies in seven sectors and 100 institutional investors. The findings are published in a new report titled ‘Now or never: A new bar for sustainability’, which was compiled in partnership with Financial Times company Longitude.

Here are the headlines:

The bar is being raised: Covid-19 is a great accelerator of climate action.

The majority of corporates (57%) say they are now accelerating green transformation plans. Investors too want to see companies put more hard environmental targets in place.

But employee wellbeing is the most urgent ESG priority for 2021.

A third of corporates (33%) put the health and wellbeing of their employees first, even above emissions reduction (30%). It’s also a top ESG priority for investors, behind only climate and sustainable supply chains.

Ambition and accountability are under the microscope like never before.

Investors want more transparency on companies’ sustainability targets: 72% of investors say they are increasing their ambitions when it comes to ESG outcomes in their portfolios.

Greater government intervention is expected in some markets, which may intensify climate transition risk.

The majority (61%) of companies in the energy sector expect new government policy action, such as carbon taxes, which could accelerate climate transition risk. The highest impact on companies’ sustainability plans is expected in the US under the new administration.

Sustainable finance is boosting accountability and investors say it will accelerate transition.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of companies say sustainable finance instruments such as green bonds or sustainability-linked loans, have improved their ability to put in place robust internal accountability metrics. And 48% of investors think sustainable finance will be more effective in driving the transition of carbon-intensive companies; just 26% disagree.

Read the full report here (pdf).