Collaboration and board support vital for sustainability success

The key to a successful sustainability program is collaboration with other companies and support from the executive board, according to a new report from the MIT business school.

But while an overwhelming majority of the 2,587 surveyed business leaders believe this, the majority of companies have yet to put it into practice.

The research, conducted with help from the UN Global Compact and the Boston Consulting Group, found that the best solution to increasingly complex and globalised sustainability problems is collaboration.

Nine out of every 10 respondents agreed that collaborations are needed for sustainability, with 61% of collaborative companies saying their partnerships had been successful. But despite this broad consensus and relative success, only 47% of businesses are currently engaging in sustainability-related partnerships.

 Graphic: Corporate views on sustainability collaboration

All aboard

The same gap between belief and practice rears its head on board engagement with sustainability matters.

Nearly 90% of respondents believe that their boards of directors should play a strong role in driving sustainability efforts, but only 42% of boards are perceived to be at least moderately engaged with the company’s sustainability agenda.

Predictably, this minority of active boards was having the most sustainability success, reporting that 67% of their campaigns were successful; double the success rate of companies where the board was not engaged.


As a whole, the study several reasons for optimism. Today, 65% of executives report that sustainability is on their company’s top management agenda – up from 46% in 2010.

And companies are making fundamental shifts in how they organize themselves, and how their boards of directors act, to address the profound challenges and risks that issues of sustainability present. But the report also indicates that many business leaders have some distance to go to understand that the path to sustainability success is best travelled with others.

The conclusions of the report are similar to the views of Innovate UK chief Richard Miller, who recently sat down with edie for an exclusive interview.

‘Collaboration’ was also identified as the key buzzword for 2015 by a panel of UK sustainability experts. Read about their expectations for the year ahead here.

Brad  Allen

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