The recession has done CSR a favour, say CEOsJuly 2010
Eight out of ten corporate leaders believe the economic downturn has raised the importance of sustainability, suggests a study.
The survey of 766 chief executives worldwide found 80 per cent felt the recession had pushed sustainability up the pecking order as a leadership issue for top management.
A similar proportion - 77 per cent - said the downturn had led them personally to take a longer-term view of business and the role of sustainability.
However, interviews with 50 of the chief executives found a general belief that it would take at least a decade until a tipping point is reached at which sustainability becomes 'fully meshed' with business strategy.
They cited several barriers to achieving progress, including the complexity of implementing strategy across different functions (mentioned by half), competing strategic priorities (48 per cent), and an indifference to sustainability from financial markets (34 per cent).
Fewer than half of those working for listed companies said sustainability informed their discussions with financial analysts, even though chief executives 'overwhelmingly' believed sustainability activities benefit their business.
Company heads also felt that consumers must have their tastes shaped towards sustainable products for more progress to be made, and that governments must provide clearer regulation to create a level playing field for all.
The study - claimed as the largest ever sustainability survey of senior executives - was conducted by the management consultancy Accenture with the United Nations Global Compact.
The interviewees were the heads of many of the world's largest companies, including Alcoa, BASF, De Beers, Eni, France Telecom, Santander and Xerox. Most were Compact supporters.
Mark Foster, Accenture's group chief executive, said the study had shown clearly that although chief executives have been on the defensive during the downturn, 'they feel now is the time to get on the front foot in aligning sustainability with core business strategy and execution'.
There have been signs recently that even companies that have put their commitment to corporate responsibility on hold are returning to the subject anew. Food business Dole, which was heavily criticised in 2001 for its 'considerable deficit' in CSR after it abolished its top corporate responsibility post, (EP3, issue 5, p12), has announced the formation of a revamped corporate responsibility office that will expand existing social and environmental programmes at company-owned farms worldwide.
Investment bank Merrill Lynch is also to resurrect its responsible investment team, which fell victim to the credit crunch, while a number of other banks are expected to follow suit by rehiring sustainability analysts over the next few months.
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