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CEOs Report Frustrated Sustainability Ambition

By Mike Hower

More than two thirds of CEOs (67 percent) believe that business is not doing enough to address global sustainability challenges, while the same percentage report that the private sector is not making sufficient efforts to address global sustainability challenges, according to a survey by the United Nations Global Compact and Accenture.

The survey of 1,000 CEOs found that most believe the failure to make a link between sustainability and business value is the fastest growing barrier of the past ten years, and are calling for increased incentives and rewards for sustainability leaders seeking to embed sustainability throughout their organizations.

For more than half of respondents, a lack of financial resources is cited as the leading barrier to advancing sustainability; 40 percent say that economic conditions have made it tough to embed sustainability into core business. In 2007, 18 percent said this deterred them from taking further action, rising to 30 percent in 2010 and 37 percent this year.

According to the survey, only 15 percent of CEOs think business has made good progress over the last three years in making sustainability a must-have factor for consumers, however 82 percent believe this is critical to harnessing sustainability as a transformative force in the economy. Almost half (46 percent) say consumers will always consider sustainability as secondary to price, quality and availability.

“CEOs’ 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,” said Sander van‘t Noordende, Group CEO, Accenture Management Consulting. “Many would now welcome government action to reshape market rules. But before taking this step, business leaders should recognize 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 business,” he added.

The survey found that 81 percent of CEOs recognize sustainability reputation as an important influencer of consumers’ purchasing decisions. Taking this a step further, some 93 percent say sustainability it important to the success of their business, and a majority view it as an opportunity for growth and innovation.

The report identifies a number of approaches most likely to be taken by what the study categorizes as “Transformational Leaders,” those assessed as sustainability leaders that also outperform their industry peers on traditional business metrics. These companies more readily accept that the world is not on track to meet the needs of a growing population and that business is not doing enough. They are also more committed to engaging consumers, local communities, policy makers, investors and other stakeholders.

But CEOs admit that business cannot make the transition to sustainability alone – 83 percent say they believe government should step up their efforts to provide an enabling environment for business efforts on sustainability.

Based in San Francisco, Mike Hower is a writer, thinker and strategic communicator that revels in driving the conversation at the intersection of sustainability, tech, politics and law. He comes from a diverse background, working for the United States Congress in Washington, D.C., helping Silicon Valley startups with public relations campaigns and teaching in South America. Currently, Mike also regularly writes for Sustainable BrandsHe would like to add that he is hopelessly addicted to travel and has a borderline unhealthy obsession with his golden retriever, Gerico. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter (@mikehower).

Mike Hower headshot

Currently based in Washington, D.C, <strong>Mike Hower</strong> is a new media journalist and strategic communication professional focused on helping to drive the conversation at the intersection of sustainable business and public policy. To learn more about Mike, visit his blog,<a href="http://climatalk.com/&quot; > ClimaTalk</a>.

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