Businesses ‘struggling to turn sustainability ambitions into action’, surveys reveal

A survey of more than 9,000 businesses of all sizes and sectors has found that 96% want to improve their environmental and social practices - but that most are struggling to deliver this change due to a lack of funding or resources.

Businesses ‘struggling to turn sustainability ambitions into action’, surveys reveal

Key hurdles cited were a lack of finance

Conducted by global commercial bank HSBC, the ‘Navigator: Now, next and how’ survey asked decision-makers at 9,131 businesses across 35 markets about the actions they are currently taking to address the world’s biggest ESG issues, and the actions they would like to take in future.

Of the businesses covered, 96% said they wanted to take more ambitious actions in the future. Businesses in markets including Indonesia, South Africa and Australia said this drive was largely driven by pressure from national governments, those in the likes of Poland, Thailand Argentina cited consumer demands as a key driver.

But almost all of these businesses said they are coming up against one or more key challenges in translating their green ambitions into action. The most commonly cited frustrations were barriers to financing change (35%) and freeing up resources to implement key projects (31%).

Moreover, more than one-quarter of survey respondents said they are confused by the sheer volume of ESG measurement criteria available, claiming this fragmentation is leaving them unsure what to prioritise or how to determine what best practice really looks like for a business of their size, geographical location and sector.

ESG issues which HSBC believes are being particularly clouded by this issue include labour standards in supply chains, energy efficiency and renewable energy procurement, employee treatment and executive pay.

According to a recent report by the WBCSD, the number of voluntary ESG reporting requirements has increased from fewer than 10 to 182 in the past decade, with up to 80% of these being issued by non-governmental organizations.

The travel conundrum

In related news, a joint survey by SAP Concur and the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) this week has found that less than one-third (31%) of corporate travel managers in Europe are currently working sustainability considerations into employee, client and supplier travel policies.

This was despite seven in ten travel managers surveyed claiming they want to take more ambitious sustainability actions, with barriers cited broadly echoing HSBC’s findings.

The survey revealed that almost six in ten had received requests from travellers and senior business leaders to offer more sustainable options, but that only 4% currently mandate travellers to choose travel suppliers certified as sustainable.

Promisingly, however, around two-thirds of survey respondents said they will work to help travellers book only with suppliers using sustainable practices – or else avoid their journey altogether – within the next 12-24 months.

“The power to make real, tangible changes lies with big businesses, so it’s really encouraging to see this thinking is shared by travel managers across Europe,” SAP Concur’s senior vice president Pierre-Emmanuel Tetaz said.

“Really, what we need to see is this positivity translated into employee education and transport and environmental business practices and the survey seems to be nodding in the right direction, which is fantastic.

“Business travel is a core part of all global business, so it’s crucial we find a way to mitigate the damage it causes the environment. Global travel has now reached $1.6 trillion and produces 1 in 7 jobs throughout the world, so it’s incredibly important. We’re very fortunate to be in a position where technological developments are helping us solve problems like these, so it’s about how we use and apply this tech to help reduce the damage done.”

Sarah George

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