SENIOR LEADERSHIP is the most critical driver of sustainability within a business and nearly 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, according to a new report.
The findings of Sustainability Insights: Learnings from Business Leaders – commissioned by Coca-Cola Enterprises – also showed that at Board level 28% have periodical meetings to address sustainability but only 18% of companies have directors who assess the success of sustainability initiatives.
The report was developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and featured findings based on a survey of more than 300 European business executives, exploring how businesses' sustainability strategies have performed in recent years and identifies the key drivers for future success.
"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," said Brian Gardner, senior editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
The research identifies the need to build a stronger business case to convince the wider European business community of the value of putting sustainability at the heart of its operations. 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.
For those companies that recognise the value of sustainability, the benefits they cite include differentiation from competitors (32%) and enhanced stakeholder engagement (29%). While only one in five (21%) cite boosted profits as a key benefit of their sustainability endeavours.
Sustainability Insights: Learning from Business Leaders explored innovation, collaboration and technology as important components of the disruptive approaches needed to drive the next era of sustainable business. This is essential if organizations are to achieve the breakthroughs needed to accelerate progress towards improved sustainability.
Leading companies are increasingly turning to collaboration to maximize resources and intelligence. Nearly a third of businesses (32%) now work with competitors to seek out ideas for sustainability innovation, and a similar number (27%) work with NGOs and civil society. Over the next three years, businesses say that partnerships will be important contributors to driving sustainability success.
More than a quarter of companies (28%) believe technological innovation will also drive the success of their sustainability strategy in the next three years. Additionally, 61% say that technological developments contribute to sustainability-related innovations, and 41% say they've successfully harnessed technology to improve their environmental impact.