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Optus’ ESG credentials plummet as Patagonia rises

Australian Social Responsibility Score (SRS) data demonstrates that Patagonia’s environmental leadership & Optus’ data breach are having dramatic impacts on consumer perception of the brands. 

This article highlights the opposing fortunes of two leading brands, based on the sustainability perceptions of consumers. This data does not necessarily reflect a company’s actual commitment to ESG/sustainability initiatives. 

Glow does not normally publish data on brands that are performing less well. In this case because Optus’ situation has already been widely reported in mainstream media, we have decided to share the data in the belief that Optus’ experience may help other brands avoid similar situations. 

It is worth noting that Optus have subsequently committed to undertake an external audit of the data breach via Deloitte and made significant public commitments to improved cyber-security and customer care moving forward.


Optus – the biggest decline on record 

Australian Telco Optus’ data breach has had a dramatic negative impact on brand perception with it now ranked last of all brands tracked by research firm Glow through its environment, social & governance (ESG) tracker within Australia. 

Before the September 22 breach, Optus was ranked around the midpoint of 235 brands monitored within Australia by Glow using its Social Responsibility Score (SRS) metric. This rank was broadly in line with key competitors in the Telecommunications industry. In October Optus’ had the lowest Social Responsibility Score (SRS) for any brand tracked in the Australian market. It is the largest fall Glow has seen in the nine months of measuring the country’s biggest brands from an ESG perspective. 

Mike Johnston, Managing Director of Data Products at Glow commented

Glow’s industry benchmarking shows that for Telco businesses, the Governance part of ESG is most important to consumers. That includes caring for customers, being transparent and doing the right thing – areas where the breach showed Optus to be lacking – in both the management of data [governance] and in the response to it [transparency & doing the right thing]


Source: Glow driver research 2021; size of ‘wedge’ reflects relative importance in driving consumer ESG perception


Cyber security breaches are happening increasingly regularly and they are a great cause of concern for consumers. Data security can no longer be an afterthought for brands. At least one expert, Hans Hulsbosch, is on the record as thinking that Optus may have a problem…

It’ll take years and years to get over this because their image is just shot to pieces. They’re going to need a lot of help,” he said. “To me [the size of the hacks] basically say they never had a serious security system in place for that to happen. Well, that’s not good enough. And they need to clearly do something about it.”


When situations like this do happen, businesses need a clear response plan that involves transparent, regular communications. In this case Optus customers were very frustrated by a lack of useful communications, as cited in The Guardian newspaper:

The comms have been absolute rubbish and the responses I’ve seen to the online chats less than helpful.” (Customer 1)

I have contacted them several times and they could not confirm if my data was part of the attack or not…my account is flagged as being compromised. Yet still nothing.” (Customer 2)

 Their chatbot couldn’t understand what I was asking about, which didn’t help things. Once I got through to a rep, they didn’t offer much help.” (Customer 3)


As many PR experts have noted, damage to the brand can be reduced if you get on the front foot transparently and quickly, which Optus did not. The result, the single largest shift in brand perception Glow has measured. Mike Johnston says

To put this into perspective, Optus’ position is now at similar levels to a number of fossil fuel brands – at roughly one quarter of the average for all brands tracked. Optus’ 82% decline is largely consistent across all demographic groups, with the exception of Gen Z where the decline is significantly less. This is not surprising given other Glow research indicates a lower sensitivity to Governance issues amongst Gen Z.


Patagonia – breaking into the top 10 

At the other end of the spectrum is the announcement from outdoor clothing brand Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard that the company will be ‘given away’ by transferring the business to a trust and non-profit organisation. The news that all future profits will be used to fight the climate crisis has pushed the company into the top 10 sustainable brands in the minds of Australian consumers for the first time. This jump in perceptions for Patagonia was also seen in the UK market.

This result is not surprising given that the drivers of perception for Fashion brands & retailers are centred around Environmental concerns and core Governance issues of transparency and doing the right thing.  

Source: Glow driver research 2021; size of ‘wedge’ reflects relative importance in driving consumer ESG perception


What is surprising is that the widespread coverage of Patagonia’s news did not appear to build awareness of the brand overall amongst Australians. The impact was primarily amongst those already aware of the brand, where it reinforced already positive perceptions of Patagonia’s sustainability credentials. 


The road to recovery & another casualty

Early results from Glow’s November SRS data show Patagonia has retained its high performance, while Optus’s score has recovered slightly from the extreme low of October. That said, Optus remains significantly below the position it held before the data breach and well below the position its key competitors still hold in the eyes of Australian consumers in terms of ESG credentials.

Health insurance provider Medibank has also recently been struck by a data breach. November data shows that consumer opinion of Medibank has suffered, with their ESG score dropping by almost 50%. While not as catastrophic a drop as that seen by Optus in October, this still puts Medibank at the bottom of the pile for all the Insurance providers being tracked.  

Given that 1 in 4 consumers say they have changed brands recently based on ESG perceptions, it will be interesting to watch the impact of these breaches on customer retention and ongoing business performance.  

Want to know where your brand stands?

1 in 4 consumers have recently changed products based on their perception of a brand’s ESG/sustainability performance. Are you gaining or losing customers from this changing behavior? 

Find out  – measure your Social Responsibility Score

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