Corporate Sustainability Plans Are On the Rise, Action, Not So Much, Report Finds

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Creating a sustainability action plan and actually acting on are two different things. And according to recent research, the divide between the two is evident in a number of companies.

According to the report, “Closing the Green Gap,” by Oxford Economics and SAP, the barriers to corporate sustainability initiatives are widespread among leading companies. Communication breakdowns and execution are lacking, the study found, and so is ineffective use of data, compounded by siloed technologies that make access to information and execution challenges.

Sustainability initiatives

Despite the failings, the number of businesses that understand the need for sustainability initiatives is on the increase. The research found that 63 percent of executives surveyed said their companies do have sustainability plans currently; 58 percent expressed an eagerness to act on these plans for efficiency’s sake; 46 percent said it improved the brand’s reputation; 44 percent said it met customers’ needs.

According to the research, more than 60 percent of executives that have sustainability plans in place say the scope and vision of such plans have not been effectively communicated, though.

Photo by Raw Film on Unsplash

“Executives recognize that sustainability efforts can lead to better profitability, attract both customers and employees and drive a positive impact across their supply chains,” said Vivek Bapat, senior vice president, Purpose and Sustainability, SAP.

Despite the benefits of switching to renewable energy and reducing energy needs, more than 30 percent of the respondents said they don’t view using sustainable energy providers as critical to their carbon-reduction goals. They’re also not asking suppliers or partners to adhere to the same requirements companies put on themselves.

About nine percent of those surveyed have embraced sustainability processes and are seeing beneficial results, the researchers noted. The researchers call this group “sustainability leaders,” and cite them as setting clear expectations at the strategic level and applying “transformative power of technology and data management” to help them engage with their team, supply chain, and policymakers.

“Sustainability leaders go beyond vision to ensure that sustainability initiatives are acted upon,” Edward Cone, editorial director, Oxford Economics, said in a statement. “They communicate with key constituencies both inside and outside the company, and they use integrated technologies to measure and track performance in a way that drives accountability.”

Sustainability ‘Leaders’

The researchers suggest focusing on five key areas to help companies move into the “leaders” category: executive sponsorship; clear communication; integrating processes and data; working with customers, suppliers, and partners; and capturing and analyzing data.


According to the researchers, sustainability efforts should “start with setting an explicit plan that is communicated and emphasized throughout the organization.” The findings also recommend ensuring the vision is turned into action. “Connecting key teams with clear goals is important to push greater sustainability performance.”

“Most businesses have not embedded sustainability into their core strategies, leading to disconnected technologies that double count, prevent strategic planning and leave financial and nonfinancial information disconnected,” the report notes. “Unifying these assets provides visibility into progress and performance.”

“[A]chieving these goals requires a high degree of communication and engagement,” Bapat said. “At SAP, we’re trying to understand how we can support these companies in realizing results from their sustainability goals and to defining best practices across industries.”

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash.


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