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UN Global Compact Releases Sustainability Research Findings

The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) recently released its 2013 Global Corporate Sustainability Report on the state of corporate sustainability.

The UN Compact’s pool of respondents have committed to pursuing the UN’s defined goals associated with Human Rights, Labor, Environment and Anti-corruption. The study, using a Six Sigma-like continuous process improvement model, measures where companies are in their sustainability programs along the wheel of: commit, assess, define, implement, measure and communicate.

UNGC partnered with The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to conduct the study. There were a total of 1712 responses to the survey, of which 753 (44 percent) were classified as SMEs, those firms with 249 employees or less. The remaining 56-percent of the responses were large enterprise sized firms. As an aside, the U.S. Small Business Administration defines SMEs as 499 employees or less.

The 2013 report identifies four key findings:

1. Companies are moving from good intentions to action, albeit slowly. It takes significantly more resources of all kinds for a company to move into the implement, measure, and communicate phases. The report notes the longer a firm is a member of the Compact, the higher the probability it will progress into the action phases.

2. Supply chains are a hurdle for companies to report becoming more sustainable. It is not the supply chain, per se, that is the issue. It is the fact that most companies are not implementing measuring and reporting metrics for their supply chains to comply with at this time. In addition, only a few of those who are working with their supply chains follow through to ensure remediation has been completed.

3. Large companies lead the way in implementation efforts across all measures in the study. While companies of all sizes are committed to the UNGC, large companies are significantly more likely to move from commitment to action. However, smaller companies are moving quickly to catch up to larger operators.  Of particular note, the same hurdles identified in the preliminary findings of Sustainability4SMEs’ research are the same: lack of knowledge and lack of financial resources. (See the prior post and graphic here.)

4. When companies were asked to rank the top global sustainability challenges, education and poverty eradication were the leaders. These challenges speak to the importance of meeting the basic needs of the all the world's residents. These responses are in line with the broader mission of the UN Global Compact for Sustainability.

The UN Global Compact has been conducting this study annually since 2007 and is seeing positive change across each of its core measures. It notes increasing numbers of firms committing to sustainability. It has also noted a slow, steady rise in firms of all sizes moving toward implementation.

Its research findings for small and mid-sized companies (SMEs) are consistent with the preliminary findings in the ongoing research being conducted by Sustainability4SMEs.

What are your thoughts on sustainable business initiatives for small and mid-sized companies? If you have not had the time to complete the survey yet, it is still open. Click here to get started. We and your fellow SMEs appreciate you spending 10 minutes to share your thoughts. Total study results will be published in early 2014!

Join us for our webinar on Tuesday, October 22, in cooperation with the International Society for Sustainability Professionals. Register here.

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Sustainability4SMEs: Graham Russell & Martha Young

Graham Russell brings 25 years of CEO experience in the environmental services industry to his current role as a sustainability professional. He currently teaches sustainable business in the University of Colorado, Denver MBA program and chair’s the School’s Managing for Sustainability Advisory Council. He provides sustainability and cleantech consulting services to SMEs through TrupointAdvisors and is on the board of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals.

Martha Young has been an industry analyst and writer for 20 years. Her expertise is in small and mid-sized businesses, information technology and energy. Young co-authored four books on virtual business processes (cloud computing), and project management for IT. She is on the board of two small Texas-based businesses, and acts in a technical advisory and business strategy capacity for an east coast venture capitalist.

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