Study Finds Execs Value Sustainability Yet Fall Short on Implementation

Businesspeople work together at a table

(Credit: Salesforce)

by | Feb 13, 2024

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Salesforce recently released a study that reveals a large majority of executives think sustainability is key to their organizations’ success, but only about a third consider their business to have effectively adopted sustainable operations in practice.

The study, conducted in partnership with GlobeScan, surveyed 200 sustainability, finance, and technology professionals, including 76 C-suite executives from the United States, Europe, and Asia. The study identified a major gap between ambition and realistic action — while 93% of these executives highly value sustainability in terms of their business’ success, only 37% find it to be well-integrated into their business.

Salesforce attributes a main determinant of this gap to companies’ inability to derive value from sustainability commitments. Sustainability initiatives are reportedly not receiving adequate capital — only about half of those surveyed reported directing enough funding toward sustainability. Companies also failed to recognize a significant connection between sustainability and growing sales, ensuring stable supply chains, or reducing costs.

“There is a clear lack of ownership of corporate sustainability efforts, and a tendency to treat them solely as a brand-building strategy,” said Alison Taylor, executive director of ethical systems and co-author of the report. “But the imperative today is meaningful cross-functional collaboration, and of course allocating capital toward these critical initiatives.”

Lack of Quality Sustainability Data, Compliance a Concern

Additional obstacles to progressing sustainability commitments reportedly include insufficient access to data and concerns over meeting reporting requirements.

While 80% of respondents considered high-quality sustainability data to be “very important” for meeting sustainability targets, only 27% felt they had adequate access. New data platforms have been developed for companies to gain access to data and improve transparency, and data analytics technologies may streamline companies’ ability to make detailed, year-to-year comparisons of their sustainability efforts. Further, surveyed business leaders reported the need for more cross-team collaboration among sustainability, technology, and finance departments.

Executives also cited concerns over corporate sustainability compliance, with 59% believing it would be “difficult” or “very difficult” to comply with the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive.

“Our results sadly show that despite all the happy talk about the importance of sustainability, senior management teams aren’t giving it the attention and resources it needs to really contribute to value creation,” said Robert G. Eccles, founding chairman of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), and co-author of the report. “Companies either need to dial back their claims about the benefits of their sustainability initiatives or face this challenge head-on.”

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