The UN Global Compact and Accenture have released the findings of what they say is the largest CEO research study on corporate sustainability. In all 766 CEOs around the globe were surveyed for the report, with extensive interviews with 50 of the largest companies. (The UN Global Compact is a voluntary organisation whose aim is to get companies around the world to align their strategies and operations with ten universal principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption).
The headline finding was that 93% of corporate CEOs see sustainability as critical to the future success of their companies. Furthermore, CEOs believe that, within a decade, sustainability could be fully integrated within the core business.
According to the survey, A New Era of Sustainability: UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study 2010, 80% of the CEOs say the downturn has raised the importance of sustainability because it leads to cost efficiencies and revenue growth. It is also seen as a critical element in driving growth in new markets.
However, less than half indicated that sustainability informs their discussions with financial analysts. While CEOs believe their sustainability activities have a positive impact on their company’s valuation, quantifying that value with traditional metrics is difficult.
The survey found that brand, trust and reputation were, by some margin, the main drivers for acting on sustainability, followed by the potential for revenue growth and cost reduction (44%) and personal motivation (42%).
On the downside, barriers to achieving sustainability goals include the complexity of implementing a strategy across business functions (49%), competing strategic priorities (48%) and the lack of recognition from the financial markets (34%).
There’s lots more in the report, but it’s clear from the above findings that CEOs of large companies are generally on board with the sustainability issue, although there is still some work to do to bring round the investors and the rest of the company (although the extent will vary by industry sector). The research also reinforces the findings of other studies that the personal motivation of the CEO is a determining factor in a company going green.
But if sustainability is to be fully integrated within the core business then there will need to be extensive changes to IT systems to accommodate a variety of sustainability initiatives as well as measuring, monitoring and management. The survey had even more to say on green IT with the finding that 91% of CEOs would employ new technologies to address sustainability issues over the next five years.
Given how ubiquitous IT is in any major corporation, adding a sustainability layer across all systems (and adding some new ones) is a significant IT challenge. Not many IT departments have yet faced up to the implications, but then they have had other things on their minds for the last couple of years.
And while much of this data comes from large corporations, the influence and impact will inevitably (and quickly) filter down to smaller companies for whom green IT is, as yet, hardly on the horizon.