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U.S. Consumers, Executives Skeptical about Corporate Sustainability Commitment

A new sustainability survey reveals that only 16 percent of U.S. consumers and 29 percent of Fortune 1000 executives believe that a majority of businesses are committed to sustainability. The Gibbs & Soell survey also finds that 54 percent of executives and 48 percent of consumers believe only “some” businesses are committed to “going green.”

The study, “2010 Gibbs & Soell Sense & Sustainability” (PDF) surveyed both U.S. consumers and Fortune 1000 executives on their views of corporate efforts to improve the health of the environment through sustainable practices, products, or services.

Financial inefficiency, market reluctance and unclear measurement are impeding the path to corporate sustainability, says Gibbs & Soell. Executives cite insufficient return on investment (78 percent), consumers’ unwillingness to pay a premium for green products or services (71 percent), and difficulty in evaluating sustainability across a product life cycle (45 percent) as the top barriers to more businesses going green.

The survey also finds that businesses are taking more conservative approaches to resource management by asking “green” stewards to share duties, says Gibbs & Soell.

While more than two-thirds of executives (69 percent) indicate their companies have people responsible for sustainability or “going green” initiatives, most have added responsibilities for green efforts to the primary duties of a team of individuals (35 percent), or a C-suite or another senior level position (15 percent).

Only about one in 10 say they have a C-suite or other senior level title/position dedicated solely to sustainability (12 percent), while 31 percent said there is no one at their organization who is primarily or partially responsible for green initiatives.

A recent study from Deloitte indicates that large U.S. companies continue to be involved in sustainability, and most companies see an alignment between sustainability and their overall business strategy.

Despite the alignment, a survey conducted by Ipsos shows that a perceived lack of information and credible resources are holding U.S. businesses back from becoming environmentally responsible.

“Closing this credibility gap is going to require actions and communications that connect with key stakeholders,” says Ron Loch, senior vice president-greentech and sustainability practice, Gibbs & Soell. “Having a dedicated staff and line item budget for green initiatives is an important step in making believers of employees, customers, and investors. For connecting with consumers, it means transparency and consistency of message.”

The study was conducted online in July 2010 by Harris Interactive among 2,605 U.S. adults and 304 Fortune 1000 executives.

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