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Climate Change Biggest Sustainability Challenge

Investors, environmentalists and business leaders are cautiously optimistic that sustainability conditions in North America and developing countries will improve in the next two decades, according to the Ceres “Advancing Sustainable Prosperity” survey conducted last week at the Ceres annual conference in Boston.  Attendees at the two-day conference were queried on a range of topics pertaining to sustainability -? the issues, challenges and opportunities for achieving sustainable prosperity in global economy.

Nearly 80 percent of the nearly 300 respondents cited climate change as the biggest global sustainability challenge today, while an overwhelming majority -? 90 percent -? of those surveyed said greenhouse gas emission reductions and improved energy efficiency are the most important sustainability issue that corporations need to address in 2007.  Two-thirds of the respondents -? 67 percent -? cited renewable energy technology as the technology with the biggest opportunity for achieving sustainable prosperity.

Respondents strongly feel that the responsibility for implementing sustainable business practices within companies lies at the top. Forty-six percent of respondents said direct engagement with corporate CEOs and board members is ”the single, most effective method” for investors to spur sustainable business practices. Asking companies to improve disclosure on sustainability issues was a distant second at 15 percent. Filing shareholder resolutions received only 10 percent support.

Respondents were cautiously optimistic that government and business action will improve environmental and social conditions. According to the survey, 37 percent of respondents said that sustainable prosperity is “best achieved” through government policy & action, followed by corporate action at 32 percent and 20 percent consumer/personal action.

A very positive sign lies in the prospects for the future. Three-quarters of the respondents -? 78 percent -? believe that sustainability conditions in North America will “significantly improve” or “slightly improve” by 2025. Respondents were less optimistic about emerging/developing countries, with 55 percent saying sustainability conditions would improve, while 31 percent said they would “significantly” or “slightly” worsen by 2025.

The following are the complete results of the Survey:

1. What are the three most important sustainability issues that corporations need to address in 2007:

Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and increase energy efficiency 92%
Implement sustainability in supply chain strategies 56%
Integrate sustainability into product material design 50%
Investment in new technologies and products to reduce emissions 47%
Improve human rights/labor practices   32%
Other    9%
Don’t know/Declined  0%

2. Sustainable prosperity is best attained through (select most important):

Government policies & actions 37%
Corporate actions 32%
Consumer/personal actions 20%
Other   10%
Don’t know/Declined  1%
Philanthropy    0%

3. Rank the following challenges facing sustainability today (1-not important; 5-extremely important)                      

Climate change  4.6 avg. score
Depletion of natural resources 4.3 avg. score
Water quality/quantity  4.2 avg. score
Poverty 4.0 avg. score
Over population   3.7 avg. score
War/security  3.7 avg. score
Toxics  3.6 avg. score
Food quality/quantity 3.5 avg. score

4. Many experts believe sustainability is a key part of business strategy. What are three areas where sustainability can have the biggest impact on business?             

Improve risk management  64%
Improve operational efficiency/cost savings 63%
Building long-term shareholder value 62%
Differentiate products and services 36%
Improve brand reputation  33%
Improve access/retention of skilled employees  27%
Other  4%
Don’t know/Declined   2%

5. Do corporate sustainability reports influence your opinion or actions on the following (select one or more)

Reputation of company  73%
Wanting to invest in a company 66%
Wanting to work for a company 57%
Don’t know/Declined 8%
Other  5%

6. Do you agree or  disagree with the following statement: “Collaboration, such as partnerships between NGOs, companies and investors, is important for progress on sustainability issues.”

Strongly agree 79%
Somewhat agree 20%
Somewhat disagree 1%
Strongly disagree  0%
Strongly disagree  0%

7. What is the single, most effective method for investors to spur sustainable business practices?

Direct engagement with corporate CEOs and board members  46%
Asking companies to improve disclosure on sustainability issues 15%
Encourage government to require businesses to improve sustainability practices and disclosure 14%
Filing shareholder resolutions  10%
Implement sustainability in their own organizations 6%
Other    4%
Don’t know/Declined  4%

8. What technology poses the biggest opportunity for sustainable prosperity?

Renewable energy technology 67%
Other  8%
Information technology 7%
Don’t know/Declined 7%
Water purification technology 6%
Nanotechnology  3%
Biotechnology 2%

9. By 2025, sustainability conditions in North America will have:

Improved significantly  67%
Improved slightly 8%
Worsened significantly  7%
Worsened slightly 7%
Stayed the same 6%
Don’t know/Declined 3%

10. By 2025, sustainability in emerging/developing countries will have:

Improved significantly  20%
Improved slightly 35%
Worsened significantly  18%
Worsened slightly 13%
Stayed the same 11%
Don’t know/Declined 3%

Total number of respondents: 281

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