By Daniel Hunter
According to a recent study, senior leadership is regarded as the most critical driver of sustainability within a business and nearly half of businesses (44%) believe engagement with business leaders will be the most important factor in successfully implementing a sustainability strategy over the next three years.
Additionally, at the Board level, 28% have periodic meetings addressing sustainability, but only 18% of companies have directors who assess the success of sustainability initiatives.
These are the findings of Sustainability Insights: Learning from Business Leaders, a studycommissioned by Coca-Cola Enterprises (NYSE/Euronext Paris: CCE), which manufactures, bottles and markets Coca-Cola products in Western Europe, and developedby the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
The research, based on a survey of more than 300 European business executives, explores how businesses' sustainability strategies have performed in recent years and identifies the key drivers for future success.
"Despite the challenging economic environment, companies have largely stayed with their sustainability goals. What we are seeing now is a real shift to mainstream sustainability-related initiatives in Europe. Companies are learning how to better integrate this into their businesses profitably. There is still a lot of room to improve but this is a profoundly positive change,"said Brian Gardner, senior editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
The research identifies the need to build a stronger business case to convince the wider European business community of the value of putting sustainability at the heart of its operations. While 52% of companies have been able to maintain their sustainability agenda despite the economic downturn, almost half (44%) of respondents report that the biggest barrier to implementing a sustainability strategy is perceived high costs, coupled with a lack of belief in rates of return.
For those companies that recognize the value of sustainability, the benefits they cite include differentiation from competitors (32%) and enhanced stakeholder engagement (29%).While only one in five (21%) cite boosted profits as a key benefit of their sustainability endeavors.
Sustainability Insights: Learning from Business Leaders explored innovation, collaboration and technology as important components of the disruptive approaches needed to drive the next era of sustainable business. This is essential if organizations are to achieve the breakthroughs needed to accelerate progress towards improved sustainability.
Leading companies are increasingly turning to collaboration to maximize resources and intelligence.Nearly a third of businesses (32%) now work with competitors to seek out ideas for sustainability innovation, and a similar number (27%) work with NGOs and civil society.Over the next three years, businesses say that partnerships will be important contributors to driving sustainability success.
More than a quarter of companies (28%) believe technological innovation will also drive the success of their sustainability strategy in the next three years. Additionally, 61% say that technological developments contribute to sustainability-related innovations, and 41% say they've successfully harnessed technology to improve their environmental impact.
"We are proud of the progress we have made on our own sustainability journey, but the next era of sustainable business will be led by more meaningful collaboration. Working with government and society, we all need to identify the innovations that will address the significant societal and environmental issues of our time," said John F. Brock, chairman and chief executive officer at Coca-Cola Enterprises.
"Business leaders need to embrace disruptive new approaches to sustainability - both within our own organizations and through our value chains. We need to advocate for this among the broader European business community to create breakthroughs in sustainable business."
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