Sustainability is a global issue that is critical to the success of companies around the world. At least, that's what a new study from Accenture and the United Nations Global Compact tells us. The study, A New Era of Sustainability: UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study 2010, is based on findings from a survey of 766 CEOs around the world. The results are somewhat surprising: Despite the recent economic slump, executives are more committed to sustainability than ever.
According to the study, 80% of CEOs think the economic downturn has raised the importance of sustainability. An impressive 81% have made sustainability part of their company's core strategy—up from 50% in 2007. It's a practical move, with CEOs citing brand, trust, and reputation as the most important factors when considering sustainable initiatives. Other important factors cited by the study include the potential for revenue growth, personal motivation, customer demand, and employee engagement and retention.
This is all good news for the environment if the survey respondents actually follow through on their words. The report explains that the CEOs face some daunting challenges:
48 percent of CEOs report that competing strategic priorities are currently a significant barrier to implementation of sustainability issues. Although the downturn has in many instances accelerated integration of sustainability issues, it has also provided a further set of pressures for CEOs to manage. As one North American CEO told us, "It is difficult for some firms when they’re focused on being able to turn the lights on every morning."
So although there is widespread belief in the strategic importance of sustainability issues among CEOs, nevertheless executives are still struggling to approach them as part and parcel of core business.
While the majority of CEOs want to embrace sustainability, they also realize that there is a long road ahead. Ninety-one percent of those surveyed plan to implement new technologies (i.e. renewable energy sources) over the next five years to increase sustainability.
But the idea of sustainability is subjective, and one company's core environmental strategy might not be nearly as comprehensive as another company's plan—even though both can claim that they do, in fact, have sustainability strategies. If sustainability truly is as important as these CEOs seem to think, we'll soon be able to judge green strategies based on business successes and failures.