(London/New York) – A new research study published today by the United Nations Global Compact and Accenture shows major differences in perceptions of sustainability between CEOs in different industry sectors, and significant gaps in the level of integration of sustainability already achieved in their companies, despite an overall trend towards seeing sustainability as an opportunity for value creation and business success.
A New Era of Sustainability, the original study by Accenture and the UN Global Compact, showed that 93 percent of 766 CEOs surveyed believe that sustainability will be “important” or “very important” to the future success of their company. The study released today looked much more closely at industry-level data with in-depth examinations of CEO responses in seven key industry sectors:
Infrastructure & Transportation
Upon closer examination, significant differences appear at the industry level: 100 percent of automotive CEOs and 100 percent of executives heading large consumer goods companies, see sustainability as critical to their success. CEOs in the banking sector, which has not traditionally focused on sustainability, also see these issues as a strategic priority: 68 percent regard sustainability as ”very important” to their future success, and 63 percent report that their company is integrating sustainability “much more” than five years ago.
Conversely, only 22 percent of CEOs in the communications sector perceive sustainability to be a “very important” factor in shaping their future success, the lowest in any of the seven industries. However, research suggests that even in this sector, sustainability may be growing in importance, with 70 percent of CEOs seeing the potential for revenue growth and cost reduction as a primary motivation for taking action on sustainability – the highest figure across the seven sectors.
“Whilst it’s clear that business is now embedding sustainability at the core of their strategy and operations,” said Sander van‘t Noordende, Group Chief Executive, Accenture Management Consulting, speaking during the launch of the reports at Accenture’s Sustainability 24, an online gathering of sustainability decision makers across the world, “we’ve not had sufficient evidence on how different sectors manage this integration. These industry specific insights make sustainability become real at an industry level, helping us understand the specific challenges and opportunities within each sector, as well as how leaders are going about creating competitive advantage.”
“Making it real” – integrating sustainability into core business
The industry analysis shows that some sectors may be ahead of the pack when it comes to integrating sustainability into core business. Eighty percent of utilities CEOs, for example, report their company has embedded metrics to track sustainability performance, ahead of the cross-industry average of 64 percent. Similarly, 83 percent of CEOs in the energy sector and 81 percent of those in infrastructure say their company measures both positive and negative impacts of their activities on sustainability outcomes, a finding which suggests sustainability performance management capabilities are beginning to take root in leading industries.
“Insights from the study have helped us to understand the executive business lens for sustainability across industries,” said Peter Lacy, Managing Director, Accenture Sustainability Services for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Latin America and the overall study lead. “Most importantly, we heard from a growing number of CEOs that sustainability is becoming part of their innovation and growth agenda. That may not be new for certain well-known companies, but it marks a significant departure to see this more widespread across industries. There are many challenges ahead – and legitimate questions about scale and real impact – but we’re starting to see signs of high performing businesses aligning sustainability with the top line.”
Nevertheless, performance gaps remain between CEOs’ ambition and execution. Ninety-five percent of automotive executives, for example, believe that companies should invest in enhanced training of managers to integrate sustainability into strategy and operations, but just 52 percent report that their company already does so.
“Much more remains to be done to help companies turn sustainability goals into action,” said Georg Kell, Executive Director of the UN Global Compact. “CEOs clearly see the need to instill sustainability at all levels and roles within organizations, and this unprecedented level of data and analysis will enable us to help them on their journey to truly embedded long-term sustainability.“
Note to editors
The industry analysis of the UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study is based on a survey of 766 CEOs worldwide, initially conducted for the joint report, A New Era of Sustainability, published in 2010.
The sector by sector analysis was first published on May 25th 2011, as part of Sustainability 24, an online event that brought together business and local government leaders to demonstrate how sustainability can be embedded throughout an organization.
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