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Sustainability Top of Mind for CEOs and Boards, IBM Survey Reveals

By Dave Armon

Corporate investment in sustainability has more than doubled as a percentage of revenue over the past five years, according to new research conducted by IBM.

Interviews with 3,000 CEOs across multiple industries and geographies found that the push to become a more sustainable company continues to rise as a key business priority, with 80 percent saying a focus on sustainability will drive improved business results in the next five years. 

“There’s a huge amount of optimism,” Phil Spring, executive vice president and partner at IBM Consulting told attendees at a Reuters conference in London Wednesday, adding that two-thirds of the CEOs surveyed are confident they will achieve their sustainability goals. 

Other key findings reported in the latest annual IBM CEO study include:

Almost half, or 48 percent of surveyed CEOs say increasing sustainability is a top priority — up 37 percent since 2021.

While 95 percent of CEOs indicate they have at least begun piloting such a strategy, just 23 percent say the initiatives are being implemented across their entire organization.

Investment in sustainability as a percentage of revenue more than doubled over the past five years.

Nearly 70 percent of surveyed CEOs say they are directly involved in defining their organization’s sustainability strategy.

Further, 51 percent of respondents cite becoming a more sustainable operation as among their greatest challenges in the next two to three years, citing unclear return on investment and technology barriers as hurdles.

Among stakeholders exerting the most pressure around sustainability are board members, 72 percent; investors, 57 percent; ecosystem partners, 49 percent; regulators, 49 percent; and government, 46 percent. 

Additional top challenges confronting CEOs include regulation, 50 percent; cyber risk, 45 percent; technology infrastructure, 41 percent; and supply chain disruption, 38 percent.

“There’s a huge amount of variability and we really wanted to look at the bigger picture of what sustainability means (to CEOs),” Spring told attendees at the Responsible Business Europe conference, an event this past week that focused on an environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda.

Image credit: Bastian Pudill via Unsplash

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Dave Armon is the Chief Executive Officer of 3BL Media, which produces the 3BL Forum and ranks the 100 Best Corporate Citizens. A former journalist, Dave spent 20 years in management at PR Newswire, where he was president and COO.  

Read more stories by Dave Armon