Only one in five companies has fully integrated sustainability into business, according to a survey of corporate sustainability executives by nonprofit business network BSR and research consultancy GlobeScan.
This year, more than 700 business leaders from BSR’s global member network responded to the fifth annual BSR/GlobeScan State of Sustainable Business Survey 2013 — the largest survey response to date, BSR says.
For the third year in a row, when asked about the most important leadership challenge for business today, 62 percent of respondents say it’s integrating sustainability into core business operations. This was far higher than the next most frequently cited challenge, convincing investors about the value of sustainability (28 percent).
In the 2013 survey, respondents were asked for the first time to indicate the extent to which sustainability is integrated into the core of their business. The findings show that significant integration has taken place only within about one in five companies: 21 percent report that their company is close to full integration. About half (51 percent) say that their company is either about halfway to integration, or is just getting started (22 percent).
The challenge of integrating sustainability throughout the business is reinforced by evidence that sustainability professionals continue to have low levels of engagement with their colleagues in other functions. Survey respondents note a lower level, and decreasing, engagement between sustainability functions and corporate functions, such as investor relations (with 37 percent of those surveyed saying they engage with investor relations, down 1 point from 2011), human resources (34 percent, down 3 points), R&D (32 percent, down 9 points), marketing (28 percent, down 14 points), and finance (16 percent, down 2 points).
GlobeScan CEO Chris Coulter says this trend toward less connectivity between a firm’s sustainability functions and core functions — such as finance, marketing, HR, investor relations, and R&D — is “concerning” and shows a need for more internal collaboration.
The survey also shows continued high levels of engagement between sustainability functions and their counterparts in corporate communications. A majority of executives said they engage regularly with corporate communications (75 percent, down 2 points from 2011), public affairs (66 percent, down 2 points), supply chain (64 percent, no change), and the CEO’s office (59 percent, down 1 point).
An online tool launched late last week by BSR and consultancy Futerra can help executives build a business case for sustainability, the organizations say. The Business Case Builder, developed by BSR’s Sustainable Lifestyles Business Group, which includes brands such as Carlsberg, Cathay Pacific, Disney, eBay, Hilton Worldwide, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal, Mars and Mondelez, aims to guide firms through six steps to help them sustain economic value from encouraging consumers’ sustainable behavior.