United Nations: CEOs say sustainability less important.

24 09 2013

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In a massive new study which interviewed 1,000 CEOs around the world, The United Nations and Accenture report that only 32% of CEOs believe the global economy is on track to meet the demands of a growing population within global environmental and resource constraints.  Alarmingly, the number of CEOs of saying that sustainability is “very important” to their business success dropped to 45%, a decline from 54% just three years ago.

The third United Nations Global Compact – Accenture CEO Study On Sustainability 2013 points to CEOs concern about an uncertain global economic climate as directly impacting the urgency of addressing sustainable business operations.  Despite the report that 63% of CEOs expect sustainability to transform their business within five years – and 76% believe that embedding sustainability into core business will drive revenue growth and new opportunities – many struggle with market expectations, investor pressure and the difficulty of measuring the business value of sustainability.

The report demonstrates how the world’s CEOs are conflicted on the extent to which they believe that business is making sufficient efforts to address sustainability. with 33% agreeing business is making the acceptable effort, while 38% disagree.  See the report chart below:

UN-accenture-graph

In an executive summary of the CEO survey, the authors conclude:

“CEOs clearly recognize the scale of the global challenge—but may not yet see the urgency or the incentive for their own businesses to do more and to have a greater impact. This disconnect suggests that a gap persists between the approach to sustainability of the majority of companies globally—an approach centered on philanthropy, compliance, mitigation and the license to operate—and the approach being adopted by leading companies, focused on innovation, growth and new sources of value.”

Other key findings in the report include:

  • 83% of CEOs see an increase in efforts by governments and policy makers to provide an enabling environment for the private sector as integral to advancing sustainability.
  • 85% of CEOs demand clearer policy and market signals to support green growth.
  • Only 29% of CEOs regard climate change as one of the most important sustainability challenges for the future of their business
  • And just 14% regard water sanitation as an important issue for their business to address.

Clearly the lack of progress on the global economy and the failure of governments and regulators to provide consistent sustainability frameworks are holding back CEOs from focusing their full attention on the long-term issues of sustainability and threatened natural resources.  As the report highlights, more urgency is needed:

“As business leaders across the world come together this year to set out an architecture to align business action with global priorities, there is a clear and unequivocal call for greater ambition, greater speed and greater impact.”

- United Nations Global Compact

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