Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


C-Suite is impressed with returns from CSR

June 2011

A new survey shows that many companies feel their sustainability initiatives produce benefits that have exceeded expectations. EP looks at  the findings

The majority of businesses say that benefits resulting from their sustainability initiatives have exceeded expectations, according to an international survey by Accenture. But a hardcore minority of businesses do not see sustainability as a critical or strategic investment.

The survey of 247 ‘C-Suite’ senior headquarters executives in the US, UK and China reveals that 72 per cent think the benefits of their sustainability initiatives exceeded expectations, while only four per cent said they had failed to meet expectations.

Business leader respondents identify the main benefits as reputation and trust (cited by 49 per cent), lower costs (42 per cent), and an improved brand  (41 per cent).

Although two thirds (68 per cent) of senior business decision makers see sustainability as an integrated part of their business, most of the rest say it is peripheral.  While 66 per cent see sustainability as an investment, 34 per cent see it as more of a cost.  And although two-thirds believe their company is investing the right level in sustainability initiatives, a third say their business invests too much or far too much.

Almost all respondents (93 per cent) say their company currently has sustainability initiatives, with the most common focus areas being the reduction of the amount of electricity used, and green IT (both cited by 51 per cent), followed by sustainability talent and skills initiatives (47 per  cent) and the development of sustainability based new products and services (44 per cent).

‘The good news is that companies are already seeing sustainability investments generate returns in terms of market success and cost performance,’ says Bruno Berthon, managing director of Accenture Sustainability Services.

‘The irony is that the hardcore third of businesses who don’t enjoy these benefits are likely the ones who think sustainability is peripheral to their business. Only by placing it at the heart of commercial strategy can sustainability be a channel to growth and innovation.’

The Accenture survey identifies a disparity between assumed and actual drivers of sustainability initiatives. Companies expect that sustainability will be driven by three key external factors: investment pressure, regulations and customer expectations.  

In reality, however, the top motivations are a genuine concern for the environment and society (cited by half) and reducing energy and material costs (also half).  

Also important are customer expectations (47 per cent) and an opportunity for higher margins and business growth (45 per cent).
Cost is the most significant barrier to sustainability initiatives, with just under half of respondents identifying it as a problem. Other key barriers include the inability to measure sustainability initiatives (31 per cent), the lack of
government/local government incentives (30 per cent), and the belief that one company can’t make a difference to global warming (29 per cent).

‘It’s clear that sustainability is no longer merely a matter of compliance, but a proactive way to energize commercial strategy,’ says Berthon. ‘Measuring sustainability performance and results is the first practical step business leaders need to make, but requires new skills and proven methodologies. Get it right and sustainability champions can form a business case, galvanize internal support and actively secure shareholder support.’

When asked who should be more responsible for ensuring progress is made in a sustainable way, 41 per cent of Accenture’s respondents said businesses should be responsible, versus 36 per cent who thought government should be more responsible and 23 per cent who said the onus should be on individuals.  

However, almost half think that business is doing the most to promote sustainable progress, against only a quarter  who think governments are in the vanguard, and another quarter who identify individuals as doing the most.

The survey shows that although many business leaders may want more government incentives to encourage them to act, they appear satisfied with support from the financial sector.

In all, 45 per cent say that the financial sector is investing the right amount in sustainability initiatives, although 28 per cent say it invests too little and 26 per cent too much.   

Overall, three-quarters of C-Suite decision makers have confidence in the financial sector to provide funding for sustainability initiatives.

The survey was taken in advance of last month’s Accenture’s ‘Sustainability 24’ event, a day of discussion on sustainability in the business sector.

Accenture | Global | Sustainability

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