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Current and Future Business Leaders Agree on Most Sustainability Challenges

Current and future leaders believe the most significant leadership challenge facing business today is the integration of sustainability into core business operations, according to a new study by BSR, GlobeScan and Net Impact.

The sixth annual State of Sustainable Business survey shows a remarkable alignment between the perspectives younger and more tenured leaders on the state of sustainable business. The survey gleans insights from professionals within BSR member organizations on emerging trends, priorities and practices across a range of environmental, social, and governance issues. This year, for the first time, a number of the survey questions were extended to undergraduate and graduate student members of Net Impact, a nonprofit that empowers a new generation of sustainability leaders. The report compares the perspectives of more than 700 experienced professionals in the BSR network to almost 500 students in the Net Impact network

Results suggest that prospective business professionals are fairly realistic about the challenges that current sustainability professionals face. However, there are some key differences in views on transparency and priorities for sustainable business.

While both current and future sustainability leaders generally rate business as low on transparency, future leaders have a lower perception of business transparency in general. Net Impact students were notably more likely to say that business is characterized by a lack of transparency than BSR members (31% vs. 20%).

Since 2009, professionals from BSR have consistently highlighted human rights, workers’ rights, and climate change as the highest priority issues for their companies’ sustainability efforts for the next 12-months. Like BSR current leaders, Net Impact future leaders agreed that climate change is a top priority issue. However, Net Impact students, who were asked to rate what should be the highest priorities for business, also ranked sustainable consumption and water issues as their burning issues of importance.

Next generation leaders have high expectations for business in addressing sustainability issues, especially regarding consumption. Students noted that they tend to be drawn to brands with a story that display values that resonate with them. Companies need to provide a reason and reward for selecting their products. Perhaps it’s even time to rethink the role of sustainability leaders.

This study resonates with another report released earlier this week by CBRE Group that showed age is less of a factor than widely thought when it comes to workplace preferences in the U.S. The study found that, while current assumptions about millennials are driving the design of many workplaces today, there is actually little difference in workplace preferences between millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers. The study is based on aggregated CBRE Workplace Strategy surveys from more than 5,500 office workers across numerous industries.