The latest UN Global Compact report, which surveyed more than 1,000 CEOs from 27 industries across 103 countries, found that although the corporate sustainability movement is broadening with a deeper awareness and commitment, many business leaders express doubts about the pace of change and the scale of their impact.

Many companies are unable to scale sustainability at the pace required to address global challenges and achieve business success, it finds.

In many cases, business leaders feel that given the structures, incentives and demands of the market, they have taken their companies as far as they can in terms of sustainability.

While a few leading companies are deepening and intensifying their commitments, others are growing sceptical that addressing global sustainability challenges will ever become critical to their business success within current economic systems and markets.

To move beyond the plateau and enable business to lead the way, CEOs see Government intervention and business collaboration as the two essential elements on the agenda for action.

CEOs are calling for active intervention by governments and policymakers, in collaboration with business, to align public policy with sustainability at global, national and local levels, including hard measures on regulation, standards and taxation.

Similarly, business leaders are highlighting the need to learn from those companies already leading the way, harnessing sustainability as an opportunity for innovation and growth, delivering business value and sustainability impact at scale.

The study also looks at the impact of the global economy, which it says is currently “on the wrong track”.

From those surveyed, just 32% believe that the global economy is on track to meet the demands of a growing population within global environmental and resource constraints, while a clear majority (67%) do not believe that business is doing enough to address global sustainability challenges.

Accenture Strategy & Sustainability, who carried out the study on behalf of the UN, CEO study lead and managing director Peter Lacy said: “Evidence suggests that the global economy is not on track to meet the needs of a growing population with planetary boundaries, and our interviews this year suggest that business may collectively have reached a plateau in the advancement of sustainability.

“Without radical, structural change to markets and systems, CEOs believe, business may be unable to lead the way toward the peak of a sustainable economy,” he added.

Leigh Stringer

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