Companies grow commitment to sustainability: study

More than two-thirds of businesses are strengthening their commitment to sustainability, according to a new global study by MIT Sloan Management Review (MIT SMR) and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

The study, released in a report in early February titled Sustainability: The 'Embracers' Seize Advantage, found that 69 per cent of companies plan to step up their investment in and management of sustainability in 2011. 26 per cent plan no change and only 2 per cent intend to cut back on their commitment.

The second annual Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study by MIT SMR and BCG surveyed more than 3,100 corporate leaders representing every major industry and region of the world. It also incorporated more than 30 in-depth interviews with experts from a range of disciplines, such as energy science, management and urban studies.

The study found that a two-speed landscape is emerging, with a gap between sustainability 'embracers' who place sustainability high on their agenda, and 'cautious adopters' who have yet to focus on more than energy cost savings, material efficiency and risk mitigation.

Embracers are significantly more confident about their competitive position than cautious adopters are. Seventy per cent of embracers said they believe their organisations outperform industry peers.

In addition, nearly three times as many embracers (66 per cent) than cautious adopters (23 per cent) said that their organisation's sustainability actions and decisions have increased their profits.

"What's fascinating is that the findings depict a business landscape in general that's tilting hard toward where the embracers already are," said Michael Hopkins, editor-in-chief of MIT SMR and a co-author of the report.

"So the embracers have handed us a kind of crystal ball. Their insights and behaviours suggest a blueprint for how management practice and competitive strategy will evolve," he said.

The report identifies seven practices that typical embracers share. They:

  • Move early - even if information is incomplete
  • Balance broad, long term vision with projects offering concrete, near term 'wins'
  • Drive sustainability top-down and bottom-up
  • Aggressively de-silo sustainability, integrating it throughout company operations
  • Measure everything and establish ways of quantifying the impact of sustainability on brand, innovation and productivity
  • Value intangible benefits seriously
  • Try to be authentic and transparent internally and externally

For more details on the study's findings and interview transcripts, visit the Sustainability & Innovation website at http://sloanreview.mit.edu/sustainability-advantage.

Editor's Note:
The Australian Institute of Management embraces sustainability both in its operations as an organisation and as a topic of interest to the management community. The first event in the AIM Sunshine Coast's 2011 Management Exposed series will be 'Sustainability Exposed', featuring one of Queensland's leading voices on sustainability.