Sustainability is on the minds of many businesses today, but a recent survey found major gaps between corporate intentions and the actual integration of these “greener” practices into their core operations.
More than 700 business leaders from BSR’s global member network responded to this year’s survey, the largest response to date. The members taking part in the survey represent consumer product companies, retail, food and beverage, financial services, logistics, media, technology, energy and pharma industries across the globe.
Only one in five companies in the survey reported having significant levels of sustainable practices that are integrated across the business. But, 75% of respondents said they regularly engage with their colleagues talking about sustainable possibilities.
The companies were asked which areas of sustainability would be their priority over the next year. Human rights, workers rights and climate change where the top three concerns for the majority of the respondents. Closely behind were water quality and sustainable consumption.
“The survey reveals both the sense of urgency to address climate change, and the sense that meaningful progress goes well beyond the steps a single company can take,” observed Aron Cramer, CEO of BSR.
The respondents agreed climate change and policy frameworks were the two categories in the most need of external communication. A majority of them said they look to non-governmental organizations and industry trade groups for leadership in this area.
Two-thirds of respondents said they regularly engage with public affairs about sustainable practices and just as many said the supply chain is a key area they have begun to focus on.
About 59% said their CEO is actively engaged in the company’s sustainability program and less than one-third of the respondents said research and development is actively involved in the conversations about sustainability at their firms.
Perhaps one reason why so few have fully integrated sustainability practices is that only 16% of the respondents said they regularly engage with corporate finance.
“The trend toward weaker engagement between sustainability functions and core functions such as finance, investor relations, and R&D, is concerning. Not only is engagement limited with these strategic areas, but collaboration between them and sustainability teams has declined – in some cases by a significant margin. While there is a clear need for external collaboration, there is an equally important case to be made for greater internal collaboration,” said Chris Coulter, CEO at GlobeScan.
Four in 10 companies surveyed said they measure the return on investment of their sustainability efforts. The major reasons from those firms who do not measure ROI include complexity with data calculations, lack of methodology and priority or limited resources.
For the third year in a row, when asked about the most important leadership challenge for business today, 62% of respondents noted the integration of sustainability into core business operations. This was far higher than the next most frequently cited challenge, as 28% said convincing investors about the value of sustainability.
While just 21% of the respondents are fully satisfied with the integration of sustainable practices throughout their businesses, 51% said they are about halfway to integration and 22% are just getting started.