Not very long ago, sustainability within business was considered a nonessential add-on, sometimes only implemented as required by local code or to boost public relations messaging, and generally difficult to accomplish with measurable results. But as innovation in sustainability grows, and the return on investment becomes more prolific and measurable, the metrics make the message clear: sustainability is increasingly important to business strategy and a win for companies today.
This message is validated through Ethical Corporation’s recent study, State of Sustainability 2015 Report, which demonstrates a comprehensive idea of how corporations implement sustainable practice into their operations and company culture. With data gathered from over 1,500 individuals internationally, respondents represent companies from a range of sectors and offered insights on how corporations view sustainability, including: the significance of sustainability; its role in operations; sustainability budgets and returns; and future prospects.
Based on the findings of the report, below are five takeaways and supporting numbers as to how businesses are finding the value in sustainability:
- Company leaders find sustainability important for business strategy. Sustainability concerns have been elevated to top level visibility and decision makers are increasingly understanding its value. It was noted that of corporate respondents, 69% say their CEO was convinced of the value of sustainability. In turn, the majority of respondents, 89%, stated that sustainability is becoming an important part of business strategy.
- Sustainability teams focus on tracking, but team size and budgets aren’t yet impressive. Roughly 57% of respondents indicated that staff dedicated to sustainability teams are comprised of 10 or fewer members, while 46% of corporate respondents indicated that they look to consultants for sustainable strategy. The sustainability teams, large or small, have put emphasis on tracking sustainability performance against key performance indicators, with 86% saying they have a role in monitoring. But there is room for improvement – just 39% could confidently say that they accurately measure the impact of sustainability initiatives through tracking. Sustainability budgets are also tight. Only 15% of organizations have sustainability budgets in excess of $1 million, approximately 19% in the $100,001 to $500,000 range, and about 24% had budgets under $100,000. When asked if their sustainability budgets would increase over the following year, there was a split decision with approximately one third stating yes, one third stating no and one third choosing not to say.
- Sustainability has greater impact in specific business operations. An impressive 78% indicated that sustainability has an impact on internal structures and departmental responsibilities, with the greatest impact on company supply chains. In fact, an astounding 95% of North American respondents indicated the need to incorporate sustainability in supply chain strategy. For companies without procurement concerns, 67% of respondents stated that marketing and communications departments are directly impacted by sustainability strategy.
- Companies are seeing a financial benefit through the implementation of sustainable principles. Over half of corporate respondents stated that they could link increased business to sustainability activities, and about half agreed that sustainability drives business revenues. Additionally, 67% indicated that sustainability contributed to savings within business. However, sustainability still has room to be better integrated into overall business strategy as 79% stated that their company is not leveraging the potential of sustainability as fully as possible.
- Sustainability will continue to grow as a priority in the future. When asked about the most exciting opportunities for sustainability within their organization in 2015, 88% stated that creating a culture of sustainability was important or very important. Looking ahead to the future, the majority of respondents said that sustainability will play a large role as a source for competitive advantage and innovation in the next 5 years.
What these findings illustrate is an evident opportunity for improved integration of sustainability strategy within organizations. Businesses are increasingly understanding the value of sustainability, and as they learn how to harness it to its fullest potential, accurately monitor results, better understand its impact on revenues, and influence company culture, companies will soon see improved business returns and operational savings.