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2013 Sustainability Trends

Firms Need Stronger Sustainability-Related Risk Response, Study Says

2013 Sustainability TrendsCompanies are increasingly recognizing sustainability-related risk — but not adequately aligning risk response to the scale of sustainability challenges, according to an Ernst & Young study.

The free report, 2013 Six Growing Trends in Corporate Sustainability, finds increasing involvement in sustainability-related issues of shareholders and the C-suite, driven by extreme weather events and risks to natural resources, among other factors. Based on a survey of sustainability leaders the report identifies six trends:

  1. The “tone from the top” is key to heightened awareness and preparedness for sustainability risks. More than half of the companies surveyed indicated alignment on both mandated and voluntary sustainability disclosures. Engagement of the CEO and board are critical for achieving alignment with sustainability and financial efforts. The largest proportion of companies reporting total alignment with financial and sustainability reporting (36 percent) reported that both the CEO and board of directors are fully engaged. Of the above companies, 86 percent said sustainability was embedded in strategic planning and capital budgeting, 70 percent said their mission statement included social and environmental issues, and 68 percent said their organization regularly discussed sustainability-related risks and opportunities with investors and other stakeholders.
  2. Governments and multilateral institutions aren’t playing a key role in corporate sustainability agendas. Instead, respondents said consumers have significant influence on advancing sustainability on a global basis, with 61 percent citing them as a driver.
  3. Sustainability concerns now include increased risk and proximity of natural resource shortages. Fifty-one percent said they anticipate their company’s core business objectives to be affected by natural resource shortages such as water, energy, forest products and rare earth minerals/metals, in the next three to five years. Water (76 percent) was ranked by survey participants as the number-one cause for concern (see chart) among resources “most at risk.”
  4. Corporate risk response is not well paired to the scale of sustainability challenges. Although 79 percent of respondents said sustainability risks were incorporated into their enterprise risk framework, only three in 10 companies said they had run scenario analyses, and 36 percent said they had no plans to do so.
  5. Integrated reporting is slow to take hold. However, 43 percent said integrated reporting would be “extremely” or “very” helpful in such things as breaking down the silos, involving the CFO/finance team in sustainability-related initiatives and reporting, and validating the existence and importance of non-financial information reporting.
  6. Inquiries from investors and shareholders are on the rise. Half reported that they are receiving an increase in the number of sustainability-related inquiries from investors and shareholders over the past 12 months. The average proxy proposal received 21 percent of investors’ votes in 2011, up from 10 percent in 2005, reflecting a high level of interest and support.

In fall 2012, GreenBiz Group and Ernst & Young LLP surveyed members of the GreenBiz Intelligence Panel. For the report, results were analyzed from 282 respondents from 17 industry sectors who are employed by companies generating revenue greater than $1 billion. Approximately 85 percent of these respondents are based in the United States.

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