A survey by the United Nations Global Compact and Accenture has found that 67 per cent of global chief executives believe that business isn’t doing enough to address global sustainability challenges.
In a survey now completed every three years of 1,000 chief executives around the world of major companies, 78 per cent said that they saw sustainability as a route to growth and innovation and 79 per cent believe it will lead to competitive advantage in their industry.
However, the economic climate and a range of competing priorities are creating obstacles to embedding sustainability at scale within their companies.
This year, 93 per cent of respondents said that environmental, social and governance issues are important to the future of their business, but since the last report the proportion saying it is very important has fallen from 54 per cent to 45 per cent, including only 34 per cent in Europe.
A lack of financial resources is seen as the main barrier by the chief executives to advancing sustainability, cited by 51 per cent of chief executives, with 40 per cent of bosses saying that economic conditions have made it difficult to embed sustainability into core business.
The fastest rising barrier is making the link between sustainability and business value. In the last report in 2010, 30 per cent said this factor deterred them from taking action, up from 18 per cent in 2007. This year, 37 per cent of responding bosses cited this as a factor with only 38 per cent believing they can accurately quantify the business value of sustainability.
Only 15 per cent believe business has made good progress over the past three years in making sustainability a must have for consumers, even though 82 per cent think this is critical to harnessing sustainability as a transformative force in the economy. While 46 per cent believe consumers will always consider sustainability as secondary to price, quality and availability.
UN Global Compact executive director Georg Kell said: “As the chief executive study reflects, the challenge at hand is to unlock the full potential of corporate sustainability to transform markets and societies around the world.
“With thousands of companies, from market leaders to small enterprises, committed to responsible business practices, we can see that there is enormous momentum.
“Now we need policymakers, investors and consumers to send the right signals to spur the next level of corporate sustainability action, innovation and collaboration.”
Accenture Management Consulting group chief executive Sander van ‘t Noordende added: “Chief executives’ initial optimism has given way to the belief that the constraints of market structures and incentives prevent them from embedding sustainability at the heart of their business.
“Many would now welcome government action to reshape market rules.
“But before taking this step, business leaders should recognise that even in today’s imperfect markets, high performing companies do manage to combine commercial and sustainable success.
“These companies are harnessing sustainability as an opportunity for growth, innovation and differentiation, and demonstrate that sustainable business is good for business.”