Executive director of the UN Global Compact Georg Kell

23 September 2013 — More than two-thirds of chief executives think business isn’t doing enough on sustainability, a report has found, and lack of resources and government policy are major roadblocks.

The global survey of 1000 chief executives by the UN Global Compact and management consultancy Accenture found that sustainability was seen by most (78 per cent) as a path to innovation and growth, with 79 per cent seeing it as a competitive advantage in their industry.

The economic climate and a range of competing priorities, however, were roadblocks to embedding sustainability at scale within their companies.

While 84 per cent of CEOs surveyed believed business should lead the way in addressing sustainability challenges, a number of barriers were identified, including a lack of financial resources (51 per cent) and failure to make a link between sustainability and business value (37 per cent).

Executive director of the UN Global Compact Georg Kell said the study reflected the need to unlock the full potential of corporate sustainability to transform markets and societies around the world.

“With thousands of companies, from market leaders to small enterprises, committed to responsible business practices, we can see that there is enormous momentum,” he said.

“Now, we need policymakers, investors and consumers to send the right signals to spur the next level of corporate sustainability action, innovation and collaboration.”

Government involvement was marked as a key need for advancing sustainability, the report found.

Forty two per cent of respondents listed governments among their top three stakeholders in sustainability, up from 32 per cent in 2007. Clearer policy and market signals to support green growth was key for 85 per cent of respondents.

When asked which policy tools should be prioritised, 55 per cent pointed to regulation and standards, and 43 per cent called on governments to adjust subsidies and incentives.

Group CEO of Accenture Sander van ‘t Noordende said the initial optimism of sustainability had been tempered by the constraints of market structures.

“Many would now welcome government action to reshape market rules,” he said. “But before taking this step, business leaders should recognise that even in today’s imperfect markets, high performing companies do manage to combine commercial and sustainable success. These companies are harnessing sustainability as an opportunity for growth, innovation and differentiation, and demonstrate that sustainable business is good business.”

Download the report.