A new survey of CEOs by the United Nations Global Compact and Accenture found that 93 percent see sustainability as crucial to their future success. The report, “A New Era of Sustainability” interviewed more than 750 chief executives from almost 100 countries. Of these, 72 percent said that strengthening their brand, trust and reputation with consumers was the primary driver behind sustainability initiatives. Concerns about climate change were one of the most common voiced by CEOs, with 66 percent saying it was a critical development issue, behind education (72 percent). The results represent a significant shift from a similar survey Accenture conducted just two years ago which found that most businesses did not consider climate change a significant priority. The shift in priorities has been echoed in other surveys of business leaders as well.
The survey also found widespread agreement that sustainability will cease to be a separate concern from business profitability, and will instead become fully integrated into the business strategy of the company, leading to a broader sense of what value entails that incorporates non-financial metrics. Eighty-one percent of CEOs said their companies have fully imbedded sustainability issues in the strategy and operations of their companies, compared to just 50 percent in 2007.
However, although the vast majority of CEOs agree that sustainability should be embedded throughout their subsidiaries (91 percent) and supply chain (88 percent), far fewer report that their company is already doing so (59 percent and 54 percent, respectively). Forty-nine percent of CEOs cite complexity of implementation across functions as the most significant barrier to implementing an integrated, company-wide approach to sustainability. Competing strategic priorities is second with 48 percent.
A majority of respondents, 54 percent, said that fully integrating sustainability issues across their businesses is less than a decade away, while 80 percent believe reaching that goal is less than 15 years away. Eighty-six percent of CEOs said “accurate valuation by investors of sustainability in long-term investments” is a necessary first step to reaching a tipping point in sustainability.
Meanwhile, 91 percent of CEOs report that their company will employ new technologies (e.g., renewable energy, energy efficiency, information and communication technologies) to address sustainability issues over the next five years.
Despite the broad consensus in the importance in sustainability, variation existed between industries. While every automotive CEO believed sustainability and environmental concerns were important or very important for the future success, that figure dropped to 81 percent of CEOs in the communications industry, with only 22 percent of communications CEOs responding that sustainability issues were “very important.”