Senior leadership is the most critical driver of sustainability within a business, according to research by the Economist Intelligence Unit on behalf of Coca-Cola Enterprises. Some 44 percent of firms say engagement with business leaders will be the most important factor in successfully implementing a sustainability strategy over the next three years, the study found.
However, Sustainability Insights: Learning from Business Leaders also warns that if the business community is to put sustainability at the heart of its operations, a stronger business case for sustainability needs to be argued.
While 52 percent of companies say they have been able to maintain their sustainability agenda despite the economic downturn, 44 percent of respondents report that the biggest barrier to implementing a sustainability strategy is perceived high costs, coupled with a lack of belief in rates of return.
For those companies that recognize the value of sustainability, the benefits they cite include differentiation from competitors (32 percent) and enhanced stakeholder engagement (29 percent). Just 21 percent cite boosted profits as a key benefit of their sustainability endeavors, the report says.
Some 28 percent of companies believe technological innovation will also drive the success of their sustainability strategy in the next three years. Sixty-one percent say that technological developments contribute to sustainability-related innovations and 41 percent say they’ve successfully harnessed technology to improve their environmental impact, the report says.
Leading companies are increasingly turning to collaboration to maximize resources and intelligence. Nearly a third of businesses (32 percent) now work with competitors to seek out ideas for sustainability innovation, and a similar number (27 percent) work with NGOs and civil society. Over the next three years, businesses say that partnerships will be important contributors to driving sustainability success, the report says.
A stock index of sustainability leaders including companies such as Ford, General Electric, Intel and Hewlett-Packard showed a total investment return of 26.4 percent during the past year, surpassing the general global stock market. The UN Global Compact 100 launched in September. Companies on the list have committed to the Global Compact 10 principles, which, cover topics including labor, human rights and the environment.