Off Track

FGS Global’s Research and Insights team found partisan divides on the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. The results come from a canvass of TrendSpotters, FGS Global’s community of 300 news-attentive Americans.

  • Participants have paid close attention. 72% have heard a lot about the incident, while 23% have heard a little. Most describe the materials that were being transported as “hazardous,” “toxic,” “poisonous” and “dangerous.” 
  • Reactions to the events divide sharply along party lines. Democrats are quick to blame “regulatory failures” and “corporate greed,” while Republicans focus on what they see as a poor administration response. 
  • Republicans are scathing of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s performance—with many feeling he is out of his depth. Even Democrat respondents feel Buttigieg took too long to visit.
  • Democrats call for a wholesale revamp of how hazardous materials are shipped via freight rail. Democrats want to address perceived systemic problems— viewing even the smallest chances of release as unacceptable.
  • In contrast, Republicans see risk as inherent, and call only for minor regulatory changes. Republicans want to minimize perceived one-off accidents while protecting manufacturing.
  • Respondents on both sides of the aisle support requiring rail carriers to take proper safety precautions, such as slower speeds, improved defect detectors and better braking. Half each of Republicans and Democrats support such a proposal.

War on Woke?

Looking at recent polling around “woke” culture, our Research and Insights team found the term—and the issues associated with it—may be less polarizing than national rhetoric can make them seem:

  • Most Americans (56%) view the term “woke” as a positive descriptor, meaning “to be informed, educated on and aware of social injustices.” About 2-in-5 (39%) think it is closer to meaning politically incorrect and policing others’ words. Sixty percent of Republicans view “woke” as an insult, compared to 25% of Democrats.
  • 48% of U.S. adults think businesses should take a public stance on current events. Eighteen to 29 year-olds (59%) are the most supportive of companies taking a stand, followed by 30-44 year-olds (51%), those 60 and older (43%) and 43-59 year-olds (41%).
  • About a third of Americans would describe themselves as feminists (32%), but 77% say they think men and women should have equal rights and status in society and be treated equally in every way.
  • Recently, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene called for a “national divorce” between Republican- and Democratic-led states, “from the sick and disgusting woke culture issues shoved down our throats to the Democrats’ traitorous America Last policies.” Majorities of both Democrats (69%) and Republicans (60%) say they disagree with Greene’s statement.
  • 48% of Millennials report having “some” or “a lot” of trust in Congress, making them the generation with the most faith in this institution. Gen Z adults have the least trust in Congress (32%). Baby boomers have the most trust in corporate America (47%), while Gen Z has the least (31%).

The ESG Minefield

As the 2024 presidential campaign approaches, a growing crowd of ESG detractors are making their voice heard and causing some business leaders to think twice about acting and communicating on the issue. Here are some trends we’re watching:

  • ESG gets political. GOP officials are increasingly embracing the battle against “woke capitalism.” Already in 2023, at least 49 anti-ESG bills have been introduced across the country, up from 22 last year, even as those index and pension funds labeled “woke” retain positions in fossil fuel companies. Many of the party’s presidential hopefuls, including former President Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have publicly blasted the ESG movement. Vivek Ramaswamy, the founder of anti-ESG fund manager and proxy advisor Strive, even announced a long-shot bid for the 2024 Republican nomination.
  • Shifting allegiances. Republican state officials have taken on investment giants like BlackRock, State Street and Vanguard, threatening to pull billions in state money from those firms for considering climate and social equity concerns in their investing. With the help of conservative Democratic senators Jon Tester (MT) and Joe Manchin (WV), Republicans in the House and Senate passed a measure to repeal a Labor Department rule that allows retirement plan managers to include ESG considerations in their investments and shareholder rights decisions. While President Biden is expected to veto the bill, the move highlights Republicans’ willingness to oppose their traditional allies on Wall Street—and moderate Democrats’ willingness to capitulate on the issue when faced with competitive elections in conservative states.
  • Business leaders are taking notice. U.S. corporations and Wall Street’s largest institutions added language to their annual reports this year citing ESG as a material risk to their financial performance. And the three biggest index funds that regularly sway proxy votes have begun tempering their support for more prescriptive ESG shareholder proposals. Vanguard even went as far as to pull out of the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative, an industry-wide alliance to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Beyond the noise. Despite the anti-ESG efforts of a few high-profile Republicans on the national scene, some red states are ignoring the criticism. In Kentucky, pension plan executives said they would defy the state treasurer’s call for them to pull funds from financial services firms deemed hostile to energy companies because doing so would violate their fiduciary duty. The North Dakota House of Representatives struck down a similar bill that would have created a list of restricted financial institutions determined to “boycott Big Oil”.

Across industries, geographies and companies of all sizes, ESG – and the countermovement against it – will only grow in importance as we approach an election year. Companies should develop communications strategies and programs that are authentic and sustainable, and that protect perceptions of their brand across stakeholder groups.

Don’t Wait on COP28

COP28 in Dubai is slated for November 30 to December 12, but the road to COP is well underway. Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) defined the contours of the United Arab Emirates’ COP28 leadership team and how they will seek to manage the world’s signature climate gathering.

Our colleagues left Abu Dhabi with two key takeaways: first, COP28 will be a whole-of-nation and whole-of-year priority for the Emirates; and second, it is not too early for companies and organizations to engage.

The UAE has outlined four COP28 areas of focus.

  • Mitigation – low carbon technologies;
  • Adaptation – nature-based solutions;
  • Finance – the growth and sustenance of climate finance; and
  • Loss and Damage – operationalizing commitments made at COP27.

It’s not too early to start thinking about potential client presence at COP28. Companies are already sourcing space and hotels for their CEOs. The UAE COP28 team spent ADSW meeting with a variety of potential partners and sponsors including foundations, think tanks, civil society, international organizations and companies.

The Dubai Expo 2020 site of COP28 is a large complex with existing pavilions, mass transit access and close to downtown Dubai. It will be well-suited to host what is planned to be the largest and most inclusive COP ever. Civil society, business and governments will all be invited to have a presence. 

The COP28 UAE team is finalizing their sponsorship guidelines and aims to release them in a few weeks. Official sponsorship is just one of many options available to clients – we can also create tailored COP28 strategies involving the sponsorship of selected pavilions inside the blue zone, official side events and more.

FGS Global has strong relationships with the COP28 organizing team and can help advise you on options for COP28 involvement and presence.

For more information, reach out to

Debt Limit Deep Dive

Even with President Biden in Europe offering support to Ukraine and Congress in recess, the debt limit still managed to make news last week with the Bipartisan Policy Center’s release of its guestimate that the default date could happen as soon as June.

Debt limit fights have occasionally been ugly affairs, especially with a Democratic White House and Republicans in control of one or both chambers of Congress. However, no matter how ugly these battles have gotten and how many times we have walked right up to the edge of default, both parties ultimately decided it didn’t make sense to jump and a deal was struck. 

And while the debt limit crisis looming this summer may well play out this way as well, there are a number of features about the current situation that could make it harder to reach an agreement this time around:

  • No clear Republican consensus yet on their “ask”– and their many often conflicting points of view make it harder to get one.  
  • The Republican party has shifted right, and extremely narrow Republican margins in the House leave the speaker little ability to make concessions that anger his base.
  • The Democratic party has shifted left, and their thin margin in the Senate leaves Biden less room to tilt toward the middle.
  • More Republicans believe Treasury can technically “manage” default through prioritization and this process is a legitimate tool to cut wasteful spending.  
  • Partisanship is worse now than previous debt limit fights, and compromising is more difficult since the primary rather than the general election represents the greatest threat.
  • Lessons from previous debt limit battles are not helpful to resolution this time:  Democrats’ takeaway with Obama was no negotiations on debt limit and Republicans takeaway is voters’ focus shifts away to other issues over time.

All of these reasons add up to perhaps the most difficult negotiating environment we have seen for the debt limit in modern times—and are a major reason why it is harder to rule out the possibility a deal will not get done before Treasury runs out of money.

At a minimum we will see more than the usual chaos and confusion and perhaps multiple deadlines.  

Easy as 123?

Even just a few months ago, the curriculum of high school A.P. classes would be considered by most to be more of a snoozefest than a firestorm. 

But lately, it’s making front-page news, and it has brought into sharp focus the legislative, legal and political pressures educational organizations across the country are facing. 

FGS Global’s Education Group has helped organizations ranging from independent schools to global nonprofits to large universities manage a variety of complex and high-stakes issues, including curriculum criticism, social issues, labor relations, sensitive personnel matters, litigation and more. 

To be prepared for a crisis of any kind, FGS counsels our clients to have—and be familiar with— a crisis communications playbook. Through this process of creating the playbook, important questions and issues surface and can be proactively addressed, such as: 

  • The Team: Who are the core members of a cross-functional crisis response team? In addition to communications team members, the team will often include legal, human resources, campus security and others, depending on the nature of the crisis.  What level of Board of Trustees involvement is required? 
  • The Issues: What are the most significant and likely topics that might impact the institution? Are there issues impacting other peer institutions and how are they responding? 
  • The Process: How does the team determine when a crisis has taken place? Who kicks off the process? How does the team communicate in real-time? What are best practices? What is the protocol for determining next steps and who makes the decisions at what stage in the process? 
  • The Options: Who are the audiences the institution must keep in mind when considering how to respond to the issue? What channels are available to reach them (email, video, social, in-person, text message alert system, etc.)? What communications tactics should be considered and evaluated? 
  • Ongoing Improvement: After a crisis has been averted or subsided, the team should engage in a post-mortem to memorialize lessons learned and consider what could be improved in the future. 
  • Scenario Planning: FGS can work with your internal team to develop draft materials such as holding statements for a suite of possible scenarios. The playbook can be pressure-tested with a “tabletop” exercise in which a crisis scenario is simulated for practice and planning purposes. 

If you are interested in connecting with FGS Global’s education team, feel free to reach out anytime at

Outlook: Ukraine

On the anniversary of Russia’s war in Ukraine, our global Ukraine Taskforce took a look at the state of the war, outlining how the political positions of various countries will evolve and how the war continues to shape the developments in the energy sector and the global business environment.

  • There is no end to the war in sight. A war of attrition extending deep into 2023 and perhaps even beyond remains the mostly likely scenario moving forward.
  • Russia is betting that its far larger economy – despite the isolation and harm caused by Western sanctions – will generate the capabilities its military needs to ultimately overwhelm the far smaller Ukrainian forces.
  • The United States’ overall support for Ukraine remains strong, albeit complicated by shifts in its domestic political landscape. President Biden and members of his cabinet continue to express staunch support for President Zelenskyy and Ukraine. Forthcoming deliveries of expanded weaponry and other military support are intended to meet the country’s evolving needs in the face of continued Russian mobilization.
  • China will maintain its close relationship with Russia while attempting to improve relations with the West and claiming a neutral position in the war.
  • The swiftness with which many Western companies announced a withdrawal from Russia in 2022 underlined that purpose- and morals-based expectations towards companies have changed – for good. The war in Ukraine has accelerated a trend: Companies need to be more prepared than ever to communicate how their business activities and supply chains relate to larger societal conflicts and conversations.
  • Russia will remain marginalized from Western markets for as long as the war continues. Western sanctions will not be lifted any time soon and will likely remain in place indefinitely in sectors even indirectly related to Russia’s military. Even in sectors not deemed of concern for security reasons, rebuilding trust with Russia will take many years.

Find the full analysis here.

Diversity, Equity and Intention

As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, it’s a good time to reflect on how organizations can celebrate or recognize notable cultural and historic moments. 

To help inform planning around these moments, the FGS Global DEI practice group put together a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • Be intentional about the diversity moments you recognize and celebrate, including the audiences you are reaching and the reason for marking those moments. Celebrations and commemorations should align with organizational business goals, company values, DEI priorities and interests of stakeholders, especially employees. Developing criteria for when to engage can help inform your strategy and provide rationale for your choices. 
  • Organizations should be mindful that celebrations and acknowledgements should only be a small part of a larger effort to build inclusive environments for all people to thrive.
  • Be sure to ground moments of celebration and commemoration in authentic, concrete work and commitments throughout the year and report on those efforts and progress made against related goals.
  • Engage and consult Employee Resource Groups early and often as plans are developed to leverage their expertise and real-world experience, help mitigate blind spots and ensure alignment with internal and external stakeholder expectations.

Please reach out to our DEI practice group if you want to brainstorm or if you have any questions: