Survey: Most Executives Believe In Sustainability, But Half Fail To Act.

28 01 2014

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In a new survey, nearly two-thirds of respondents rate social and environmental issues, such as pollution or employee health, as “significant” or “very significant” among their sustainability concerns. Yet only about 40% report that their organizations are largely addressing them. Even worse, only 10% say their companies fully tackle these issues.

Interestingly, the survey shows that while 67% of the business leaders surveyed strongly agree with the statement “climate change is real”, only 9% strongly agree that “my company is prepared for client change risk.”

In the 2013 report, new research by MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group looks at companies that “walk the talk” in addressing significant sustainability concerns. So-called “Walkers” focus heavily on five fronts: sustainability strategy, business case, measurement, business model innovation and leadership commitment. For them, addressing significant sustainability issues has become a core strategic imperative and a way to mitigate threats and identify new opportunities.

Among the characteristics of “Walkers” in the survey,

  • More than 90% have developed a sustainability strategy, compared to 62% among all respondents.
  • 70% have placed sustainability permanently on their top management agenda, compared to an average of 39%.
  • 69% have developed a sustainability business case, compared to only 37% of all respondents.

Among the approximately 5000+ business leaders worldwide who participated in the research, the vast majority identify environmental and social issues as “very significant: or “significant.”

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Top management support is a very powerful catalyst of sustainability efforts — 68% of respondents say senior management has the greatest influence on sustainability endeavors. Employees are also part of the equation — 24% of respondents cite employees as the most influential. Employees place great value in working for companies with strong sustainability footprints. And they are often at the ready to accelerate progress.

According to the research report, “There is little disagreement that sustainability is necessary to be competitive — 86% of respondents say it is or will be. Sustainability’s next frontier is tackling the significant sustainability issues — or, in the parlance that is gaining currency, “material sustainability issues” — that lie at the heart of competitive advantage and long-term viability. Yet many companies struggle to match their strong level of sustainability concern with equally strong actions. They still wrestle with settling on which actions to pursue and aligning around them.”

Read the research report here.

About the Research

For the fifth consecutive year, MIT Sloan Management Review, in partnership with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), conducted a global survey. The 2013 survey included more than 5,300 executive and manager respondents from 118 countries. This report is based on a smaller sub-sample of 1,847 respondents from commercial enterprises. Respondent organizations are located around the world and represent a wide variety of industries.

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