European companies need to keep up with increasing stakeholder expectations
By Freja Nilsson
For the 26th year in a row, we have asked the question, "Do European companies meet stakeholder expectations?". To answer this, we have ranked the websites of Europe's 500 largest companies. The results? Companies continue to struggle to provide social sustainability data, Investor Relations information and their approach to flexible working.
The results of our annual ranking show that the largest companies in Europe haven't improved in meeting the expectations of corporate website stakeholders. The average score is up by 0.6 points to 44.0 out of 100. Still, the companies do not meet the expectations of their stakeholder groups, such as investors, jobseekers, analysts and journalists.
As a respondent to our yearly Capital Market survey said:
"Most companies are lacking an appealing and easily navigated website with sufficient amount of information. Numerous of times, the website doesn't even easily explain what the company does and/or produce or how their product and/or services work. Basically, all company websites I'm visiting have significant improvement to do."
When summarising this year's European results, we notice these trends:
- Companies' sustainability communication is not on par with stakeholder expectations, particularly not when it comes to sustainability governance and sustainability data.
- There's an increased expectation among jobseekers to understand companies' approaches to flexible working - something that most companies miss out on.
- Investor Relations continue to be the biggest challenge, and many companies don't present enough risk management information. This is concerning considering the increased instability in the world and economy, which has led to increasing investor expectations in this area.
Sustainability is continuously gaining increased importance for all stakeholder groups, and it is not expected to lose importance in the upcoming years. With the UN Cop27 meeting taking place last and this week, sustainability is at the top of the agenda in the societal debate.
Because of this, it is more important than ever for companies to ensure that they have transparent sustainability information on their corporate websites. Contrary to this, we see no improvement in terms of the general sustainability performance compared with last year. The average score has dipped by one percentage point and is now at 45 points (out of 100).
Generally, European companies don't meet high expectations in their sustainability communication, as it is not transparent or detailed enough.
Learn more about meeting the sustainability needs of multiple target groups
Here's what one of the respondents of our Capital Market survey said:
"Usually, the information regarding ESG at a company website is very general and doesn't really give out any detailed information to help me as a journalist and researcher understand HOW the company is working with and implementing the ESG policies. More details and a more comprehensible presentation of the HOW of ESG within the company would be highly appreciated."
Sustainability governance is increasingly important
As mentioned in the quote from our Capital Market survey, stakeholders want to see HOW companies are ensuring that the sustainability strategies and policies are actually being implemented. They also want to know who is responsible for following up on the sustainability strategy. 81% of the respondents of our Capital Market survey find information about sustainability governance important, and we see that it has gained increased importance every year since 2018.
How and where sustainability fits into the overall corporate structure can also be very revealing of a company's direction and priorities. For example, if the Board of Directors has a sustainability committee, it shows that the sustainability work is prioritised in the company since it is a part of the top-level management.
In this year's survey, we saw that 54% of the ranked companies provide information about their sustainability governance system. In addition to providing an explanation of the structure in the text, it is helpful to complement the information with an accessible chart or illustration. Only 4% of the ranked companies provide an accessible chart or illustration showing an overview of the sustainability governance system.
European companies need to add more information about how their sustainability work is being governed. It should be considered as important as general governance information, where the companies have come much further.
Social sustainability data needs to be added
Corporate audiences want to see how companies are improving their sustainability work by providing data. Data should be presented directly on the websites, in addition to the information in the Sustainability Reports. This is an area where European companies need to improve in order to be more transparent in their sustainability communication.
The companies especially need to improve when it comes to providing social sustainability data, such as data on health and safety, training in the code of conduct or diversity figures.
The social sustainability initiatives made by businesses have a significant impact on their "Social License to Operate", meaning the current acceptance of a company's business practices and operating procedures by their stakeholders, such as employees and the general public. Because of this, it is essential for companies to communicate data on social sustainability initiatives on their website.
This year we see that just 22% of the ranked companies provide social sustainability data, which is concerning considering the importance. The companies are slightly better at providing environmental data, which 30% of the companies present. However, companies really need to start providing more ESG data to gain the trust of their stakeholders.
Top performers - Sustainability
The following companies have the highest score in the criteria related to sustainability information on their websites:
1. Swisscom and Terna
3. Eni, Generali and Poste Italiane
6. Intesa Sanpaolo
As jobseekers' and employees' views on work and what they expect from a job are changing at a fast pace, companies need to change at the same pace in order to be able to attract talent.
Read more about what jobseekers expect
Even if times are uncertain and many companies face layoffs, there is still a lack of talent, especially in some areas. Companies definitely need to position themselves as attractive employers, even in uncertain times.
Flexible working and good work-life balance are now expected
As we mentioned in last year's Europe 500 summary, jobseekers have increased expectations of being able to work from home or even completely remotely. They also expect to be able to combine their work life with their private life and that their employer will support them with this.
One way of supporting the work-life balance of your employees is to allow them to choose where they work. Some prefer to work from home all the time, while some prefer a combination of working from home and the office. It is important to show your approach to this.
This year there has been a slight improvement in the number of companies providing information about their approach to working from home. Last year 18% of the ranked companies presented this. This year 26% of the companies presented this. An improvement, but it is still not at a good enough level considering the high jobseeker expectations.
In our yearly Career survey conducted earlier this year, we saw that information about work-life balance came in 5th place (of 37), of which career-related information is most important on a corporate website. It is even slightly more important than information about being able to work from home.
Compared with offering information about working from home, the companies perform better when it comes to informing about how they support their employees with work-life balance. 40% of the ranked companies provide this, and since it is something we evaluated for the first time this year, it will be interesting to see the development next year.
Top performers - Careers
1. Poste Italiane and Snam
No improvement in Investor Relations
As we have seen in previous Webranking editions, Investor Relations information is the biggest challenge for European companies. On average, the companies only fulfil 25% of the criteria in this section, which is at the same level as last year.
European companies especially miss out on providing information about risk management directly on their websites (in addition to the annual report). Many stakeholder groups are interested in learning about a company's risk management. For example, investors are more willing to invest in companies with good risk management practices.
In this year's Capital Market survey, we saw that geopolitical risks are of high importance to investors, given the increased instability in the world. Interest in environmental risks has also increased.
Read more about the findings from the Capital Market Survey
While 40% of the companies provide information about their general risk management processes, only 10-18% of the companies provide information about different risk types and how they affect their business. Most companies provide information about financial risks (18%), and few present information about geopolitical risks (10%).
A conclusion that can be drawn from these numbers is that European companies definitely need to become better at explaining the different risk types that apply to their business.
Top performers - Investor Relations
1. Atlas Copco
3. Poste Italiane, Snam, Terna and Eni
Terna, Snam and Poste Italiane the top performers
The Europe 500 podium has the same companies as last year, where Terna, Snam and Poste Italiane are the European top performers.
Terna remain as the Europe 500 top performer for the third year in a row (2020-2021, 2021-2022 and 2022-2023), receiving the same score as last year. They offer impressive About us, Governance and Investor Relations information.
Snam also remain as number two and have improved the score by 3.5 points, coming closer to the top performer Terna. Snam also have detailed Governance and Investor Relationsinformation.
Like their Italian peers, Poste Italiane remain at the same place as last year and have improved the score by 3.6 points, resulting in all top performers now having over 90 points. Impressive! Poste Italiane offer extensive IRand Governance information.
Trelleborg - This year's European climber
The company that have improved their score the most this year is the Swedish company Trelleborg. They have improved the score by 13.2 points. As a result of this, Trelleborg have climbed 74 placements. Good job!
The Spanish company Enagas are another big climber, improving the score by 13 points and climbing 216 placements. Well done!
Europe 500 top 20
See the full European results list or learn more about Webranking.