Senior leadership most important factor in driving corporate sustainability

Senior leadership engagement is the most important factor in determining the success of companies' sustainability strategies over the next three years, according to a new study published today.

Carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the study, Sustainability Insights: Learning from Business Leaders, found that almost half of businesses (44%) believe engagement with business leaders will be the most important factor in successfully implementing a sustainability strategy over the next three years.

The study, based on a survey of more than 300 European business executives, also found that at the Board level, 28% have periodic meetings addressing sustainability, but only 18% of companies have directors who assess the success of sustainability initiatives.

Speaking exclusively to edie, director of corporate responsibility & sustainability at Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), who commissioned the report, Joe Franses, said some companies are not “selling sustainability” at a board level.

“These companies have yet to understand or seize the opportunity that sustainability brings to business. This research shows that there are companies that are leaders but there is still a way to go in terms of the mainstream business community reaping the benefits from sustainability in the same ways that the leading companies are,” said Franses.

However, sustainability activities are still being embedded into business strategies despite the economic downturn, it finds.

While 52% of companies have been able to maintain their sustainability agenda despite the economic downturn, almost half (44%) of respondents report that the biggest barrier to implementing a sustainability strategy is perceived high costs, coupled with a lack of belief in rates of return.

Economist Intelligence Unit senior editor Brian Gardner said: “Despite the challenging economic environment, companies have largely stayed with their sustainability goals. What we are seeing now is a real shift to mainstream sustainability-related initiatives in Europe.

“Companies are learning how to better integrate this into their businesses profitably. There is still a lot of room to improve but this is a profoundly positive change,” added Gardner.

In addition, the study found that more than a quarter of companies (28%) believe technological innovation will drive the success of their sustainability strategy in the next three years.

The figures show that 61% of respondents say that technological developments contribute to sustainability-related innovations, and 41% say they’ve successfully harnessed technology to improve their environmental impact.

Coca-Cola Enterprises CEO John F. Brock, said: “Business leaders need to embrace disruptive new approaches to sustainability – both within our own organisations and through our value chains. We need to advocate for this among the broader European business community to create breakthroughs in sustainable business.”

Leigh Stringer

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