Only one in five companies has fully integrated sustainability into business, according to the BSR/GlobeScan State of Sustainable Business Survey 2013, which received responses from more than 700 corporate sustainability executives — the largest pool to date.
In this year’s survey, respondents were asked for the first time to indicate the extent to which sustainability is integrated into the core of their business. Only 21 percent of respondents reported that their company is close to full integration. A majority say that their company is either about halfway to integration (51 percent), or is just getting started (22 percent).
When asked about the most important leadership challenge for business today, for the third year running 62 percent of respondents said it was the integration of sustainability into core business operations. This was far higher than the next most common challenge — convincing investors about the value of sustainability (28 percent).
The fifth annual report shows that sustainability professionals continue to have low levels of engagement with their colleagues in other functions, which makes integrating sustainability throughout the business difficult. Survey respondents noted a lower level, and decreasing, engagement between sustainability functions and corporate functions, such as investor relations (with 37 percent of those surveyed saying they engage with investor relations, down 1 point from 2011), human resources (34 percent, down 3 points), R&D (32 percent, down 9 points), marketing (28 percent, down 14 points), and finance (16 percent, down 2 points).
“The trend toward weaker engagement between sustainability functions and core functions such as finance, marketing, HR, investor relations, and R&D, is concerning,” said Chris Coulter, CEO of GlobeScan. “Not only is engagement limited with these strategic areas, but collaboration between them and sustainability teams has declined — in some cases by a significant margin. While there is a clear need for external collaboration, there is an equally important case to be made for greater internal collaboration.”
Corporate communications remains one area where there are high levels of sustainability engagement. A majority of those surveyed said they engage regularly with corporate communications (75 percent, down 2 points from 2011), public affairs (66 percent, down 2 points), supply chain (64 percent, no change), and the CEO’s office (59 percent, down 1 point).
The survey also asked about the extent and importance of collaboration with external stakeholders. The most frequent type of collaboration occurs between business and NGOs, with 76 percent of respondents saying their companies regularly collaborate with NGOs.
A similar proportion surveyed say they collaborate regularly with industry associations (75 percent) and other companies (70 percent). Fewer companies collaborate often with governments (46 percent) or media (27 percent), both of which are rated as the most difficult partners for collaboration.
In related news, BSR last week released a new tool, in collaboration with sustainability agency Futerra, to help consumers make the businesses case for sustainability. While business leaders expect exponential growth in consumer interest and business action on sustainable lifestyles within five years, they are struggling to make the case for action, according to survey results released earlier this year by BSR and Futerra.