A major international
study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by BT, has revealed that organisations
are failing to realise business benefits from sustainability programmes. While
almost half (46 per cent) said that sustainability programmes helped improve brand
value, just one in five (20 per cent) felt they improved profitability.
Based on a survey of 750 global executives on attitudes to sustainability and
how these are reflected (or not) in corporate culture and workforce, the survey
covers a range of questions, from how people define sustainability to what they''re
doing about it and how they prioritise it.
were 10 in-depth interviews conducted as part of this exercise. The survey helps
in revealing the following:
" The scope of the confusion over what sustainability
" A benchmark on what companies are actually doing in this
area, and how seriously they''re taking their commitment
" A self assessment
of how well companies believe they''re doing
" Conflicts between what
companies'' market positioning on sustainability, and the reality of their business
" A disconnect between the stated importance of sustainability
and the staff numbers and levels dedicated to it
" A disconnect between
the stated importance of sustainability and the personal commitment / involvement
of the survey respondents
" A year-on-year comparison of whether companies
are taking sustainability more seriously when choosing partners
indicates that, whilst sustainability may be firmly on the boardroom agenda as
organisations compete for a ''responsible'' reputation, executives have yet to find
a way to harness it as a commercial force. One third (33 per cent) of respondents
admitted that their company only makes sustainability efforts in markets where
it is perceived to have an impact on customers'' perceptions of the firm, and a
similar proportion (31 per cent) admitted that their company''s sustainability
efforts mostly centre on communication, rather than actual change.
James Watson, senior editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said: "Many
companies are moving away from mere rhetoric towards real business initiatives.
However, a gap remains between what companies claim they are achieving in terms
of managing their social and environmental impacts and the extent to which their
executives feel involved in these activities. Companies need to devise strategies
that do more to engage staff in sustainability through their day-to-day activities."
Barrault, CEO, BT Global Services, said: "The link between sustainability
and commercial success is, without doubt, becoming clearer all the time. Our own
sustainability performance is helping us win deals, create new offerings and build
enthusiasm amongst our workforce."
research went on to identify that sustainability programmes were missing out on
board-level leadership. In two out of five organisations (40 per cent), the person
responsible for sustainability issues did not report directly to the board, while
23 per cent of organisations had no person responsible for such matters.
Barrault said, "The key to helping sustainability programmes benefit society,
the environment and profitability is leadership. All organisations, BT included,
are at the start of this journey, but now is the time for CEOs and CFOs to lead
from the front. Our own experience is that sustainability can be a win-win for
all concerned - local communities, emerging economies, the environment and also
the bottom line."
The full report, Action or Aspiration? Sustainability in the Workplace, can be
downloaded from www.biggerthinking.com/actionoraspiration. Other findings include:
" ''Commitment to sustainable practices'' was rated the least important consideration
when deciding to partner or collaborate with a third party company
''The company''s reputation for sustainable practices'' was also rated the least
important factor by respondents when considering a role at a new company
Sustainability practices are most firmly embedded in companies'' investor/public
relations activity (32 per cent) and HR functions (29 per cent)
one quarter of respondents (24 per cent) agree that their organisation''s sustainability
efforts are primarily driven by staff at the grassroots rather than senior management
" More than one third of respondents (37 per cent) have been given specific
sustainability goals to achieve as part of their responsibilities
than one third (34 per cent) said that their company''s commitment to sustainable
practices is not embedded in downstream suppliers and their supply chains.
" BT''s newly formed sustainability practice
recently launched the BT carbon impact assessment, which enables organisations
to accurately calculate the amount of CO2 emissions produced as a result of the
use of networked IT services. It also provides solutions to help customers reduce
their energy consumption and carbon footprint.
" BT has reduced its
UK carbon emissions by 60 per cent since 1996 and aims to reduce it by 80 per
cent (against a 1996 baseline) by 2016
" BT has one of the largest green
energy contracts in the world. Partnering with npower and British Gas, BT will
be saving the equivalent amount of carbon that is generated by 300,000 households
in the UK.
" More than 13,000 BT employees work from home with 64,000
more equipped to work flexibly.
BT is working with UNICEF to improve access to education and ICT technology in
disadvantaged communities in South Africa, Brazil and China.
" BT is
developing wind farms aimed at generating up to 25 per cent of its existing UK
electricity requirements by 2016. The scheme represents the UK''s biggest corporate
wind power project outside of the energy sector.
Action or Aspiration? Sustainability in the workplace)