Deloitte Survey of Sustainability Execs Has Some Surprising Results

A whopping 73 percent of the 48 executives overseeing sustainability efforts at their companies do not believe sustainability will create a “green collar” workforce. Deloitte surveyed leading executives from late 2009 to early 2010 across five industry sectors: automotive, consumer products, process and industrial, technology, and telecommunications.

“I do not think there will a green workforce in our industry,” said one respondent from a process and industrial company. “It will be the same people doing their jobs in a different way, being mindful of their impact on energy and environment. I think we are splitting hairs by calling it a green-collar workforce.”

However, there is good news. All but three respondents reported that their sustainability priorities were at least partially aligned with their companies’ priorities. A total of 65 percent discussed priorities related to improving the environmental sustainability of their companies’ products.

Here’s some more good news. When asked what they viewed as the greatest opportunity for becoming more sustainable:

  • 46 percent cited opportunities related to manufacturing process and operations
  • 31 percent brand enhancements and perception
  • 21 percent supply chain

A quarter (25 percent) of respondents mentioned they were pursuing efforts to make their products more efficient, mostly concerned with decreasing products’ energy use. Twenty-three percent mentioned innovations around creating entirely new lines of green products to meet sustainability demands.

Forty-four percent said they changed their business processes to become more sustainable, while only 10 percent said they changed their R&D processes to incorporate sustainability concepts. Sixty-six percent said that sustainability would have some sort of impact on their overall business model

The survey respondents on the stimulus

When it comes to the stimulus, also known as the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA), respondents said:

  • 38 percent said they were either unsure about or did not plan on pursuing any sustainability-related stimulus bill incentives
  • 69 percent said they did not seek tax credits or incentives from the stimulus plan
  • 31 percent believed they would benefit indirectly from ARRA’s sustainability incentives in the form of higher sales from customers who are directly applying for incentives
  • 38 percent of respondents pursued or planned to pursue the ARRA’s energy R&D grants
  • 71 percent said they saw no downside to ARRA participation and use of the stimulus bill

Challenges to sustainability

The two main challenges that respondents identified in making their products more sustainable were keeping the product cost-neutral to their customers, and making the sustainable product’s quality and functionality comparable to that of the traditional alternative.

One respondent said, “Our customers are not going to pay us any more money for [sustainable] products, so it has to be cost-neutral. That is what we are learning over and over – there is no premium for green products.”

Four key success factors

Deloitte cited four key success factors that help a company leverage sustainability to increase business value:

  • Aligning sustainability strategy with business strategy.
  • Integrating sustainability into operations and processes across the value chain.
  • Structuring non-traditional collaborations and extending existing collaborations.
  • Setting up a governance structure that is supported by the right infrastructure.
Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

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