Despite all of the hubbub and calls to action from business leaders around Climate Week NYC and the release of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), corporate minds at large have yet to be convinced: Survey results released this week reveal that even in companies with sustainability commitments, about one-third of business leaders believe that a new agreement from COP21 in December will have little to no significance for their business, and only one-third believe their company will use the SDGs to set goals.
The perspectives of 440 experienced professionals in 196 global companies are reflected in the 2015 BSR/GlobeScan State of Sustainable Business Survey. The results might be understandable if gleaned from a random pool of global companies; however, the survey respondents represent 77 percent of BSR member companies, which must be “committed to improving [corporate] sustainability performance [to be] eligible to join BSR.”
The results therefore signal some uncertainty even within sustainability circles. 34 percent of respondents believe sustainability is not well-integrated in their company, despite its commitments. On the brighter side, two-thirds polled believe that sustainability is at least “fairly well-integrated,” 42 percent said sustainable business is evolving and they’re seeing widespread adoption, and 14 percent said sustainability is a business imperative. But there is clearly work to be done if sustainability is to become a facet of good business.
BSR Vice President Laura Gitman seems to remain optimistic. In a blog post about the report, she wrote, “In previous years, internal integration remained a persistent challenge, so this progress signals strong promise for the future.”
Last year’s report showed that 63 percent of the respondents felt that integrating sustainability into business is the greatest leadership challenge facing companies. However, it is difficult to gauge their progress on this challenge when comparing the two, since the previous report does not provide information on how well respondents felt sustainability had been integrated into their company and the 2015 report does not provide information on leadership challenges.
Regarding an agreement at COP21, confidence outside of North America is highest. 55 percent of the respondents from North America believe an agreement at COP21 will have little to no effect on their business. Only 26 percent of Europeans and 30 percent from other parts of the world believed the same (56 percent of the companies surveyed were North American and 28 percent were European). A commitment to decarbonization and regulatory incentives for business action were ranked as more favorable outcomes of COP21, compared to policy certainty and a price on carbon.
Respondents were divided nearly evenly into thirds when asked if their company intends to use the SDGs to set corporate performance targets. 33 percent said yes, 36 percent said no, and 31 percent were unsure.
Human rights, workers’ rights, and climate change were reportedly the top three sustainability priorities for the seventh consecutive year (2015 marks the seventh annual report). Reputation is the most important driver of sustainability efforts, followed by operational risks/benefits, market growth opportunities and regulatory requirements. Customers/Consumers are the stakeholders with the most significant impact on corporate sustainability efforts, followed by NGOs and investors.
Unsurprisingly, managing energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in operations was the most important priority for corporate climate-mitigation efforts. Nearly half also report managing energy and emissions in their supply chains.
The BSR/GlobeScan Survey 2015 is a grain of salt to consider following the series of announcements from Climate Week, which involved commitments from cities, regions, and companies alike. World leaders have their work cut out for them in Paris this December — we still have a long way to go.