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Executives link sustainability to competitiveness [research]

Posting in Sustainability

Global study by MIT Sloan Management Review and Boston Consulting Group found about one-third of companies can link corporate sustainability programs to profit.

There are plenty of skeptics in the world of business management who believe that corporate sustainability or corporate social responsibility programs amount to little more than a marketing strategy. But a new global survey of more than 2,800 business leaders by MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group suggest that sustainability directly impacts competitiveness and profit.

The third annual Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study found that approximately one-third of companies can directly link business sustainability initiatives to profit. Even among those that have managed to demonstrate that link, sustainability is definitely top of mind: approximately 70 percent of the respondents indicated that this is a permanent agenda item when it comes to debating or discussing high-level business strategy. That is because about two-thirds of the surveyed business executives indicated that they saw sustainability as being necessary to business competitiveness.

The study describes companies that have managed to tie sustainability to the bottom line as "Harvesters." Here are some distinguishing features of this group:

  • They are 3 times as likely as other companies to have a business case for their sustainability measures, rather than simply adopting a program just because
  • They are 50 percent more likely to have the CEO involved in the sustainability agenda
  • They are twice as likely to have a separate sustainability team that keeps close tabs on progress
  • They are 2.5 times more likely to have someone acting in the role of Chief Sustainability Officer

In other words, they focus on this just like they would focus on any other function that has a serious strategic focus for the company.

In the materials about the new research, Knut Haanaes, a Boston Consulting Group partner who co-authored the report, said:

"There's a learning curve to incorporating sustainability into strategy. Companies that have had it on their agenda and have worked on it for years are now seeing tangible results. Our research suggests a pattern: First, a company focuses on reducing costs, boosting efficiency and enhancing its corporate reputation. Then, after a while, it takes a broader view, becoming innovative with products and processes, and gaining access to new markets."

More evidence that sustainability deserves specific attention by a dedicated team, but one that is closely aligned with the recent of the business management infrastructure.

(Thumbnail image by Svilen Milev, courtesy of Stock.xchng)

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure