When we created the theme for this year’s BSR Conference—Be Bold—I’m not sure we realized how appropriate it would be. Yet, as I reviewed the results of our eighth annual BSR/GlobeScan State of Sustainable Business Survey 2016, the need for a recommitment to bold direction and bold action became quite apparent.
The corporate sustainability field has made tremendous progress over the past two decades. Leading companies across industries are now addressing critical issues, such as climate change and human rights, and integrating sustainability into core business strategy. Still, this year’s survey results highlight a fact many of us already know but don’t always admit: Despite great progress, we may have reached a plateau. The global agreements on climate change and sustainable development reached in 2015 provide a new direction for global ambition—and it is time for companies to be bolder in their corporate commitments, actions, collaborations, and leadership.
The State of Sustainable Business Survey, released today, includes responses from nearly 300 business leaders from 152 global companies—representing more than 60 percent of BSR’s global membership network. One of the most exciting results is that in nearly half (49 percent) of the companies surveyed, sustainability is among their CEO’s top five priorities, and this has increased 35 percent since 2015.
For the eighth consecutive year, practitioners identified human rights, workers' rights, and climate change as the top three sustainability priorities for their companies for the upcoming year. In this year’s survey, the number of respondents identifying climate change, human rights, and sustainable consumption as important increased significantly over the responses from last year.
Yet, in many ways, this greater prioritization and attention has not resulted in greater progress. Many of the responses were noticeably unchanged from 2015. The percentage of companies that have not even taken core sustainability actions did not decrease year-on-year, such as not establishing a human rights policy (28 percent) or monitoring supply chain performance (31 percent).
And among the majority that have already established their core programs, we have not seen a significant rise in companies taking deeper or more innovative approaches to maximize impact. For example, less than half of respondents address sustainability risks beyond the first tier of the supply chain or have conducted a human rights impact assessment. More than half of respondents still rely on traditional stakeholder engagement methods, such as phone calls or in-person meetings, to engage with stakeholders, while only 3 percent focus on using technology platforms to engage stakeholders. We need bold action—corporate sustainability cannot risk becoming “business as usual,” or we won’t achieve the sustainable world we envision.
The survey provides hope and opportunities for such bold action. For instance, 38 percent of respondents are setting science-based climate targets, which ensures more ambitious mitigation efforts. More than half of companies plan to use, or are already using, the Sustainable Development Goals to inform target-setting, and 60 percent believe that inclusive growth is a priority for their companies. Furthermore, companies on the whole have established organizational structures to achieve bold targets. Sustainability is reported to be at least fairly well integrated in almost 70 percent of companies, and 72 percent of respondents stated that sustainability is aligned and integrated with corporate purpose.
This is a strong foundation for greater action. In just three weeks, many of us will be convening in New York at the BSR Conference 2016. At BSR, what we love most about our flagship annual event are the moments of collaboration and creativity that emerge during our three days together. This year, we’re looking forward to exploring ways to encourage and engender bold business leadership in sustainability, along with our survey partners GlobeScan and so many of our members, partners, and others. We hope you’ll join us as we work to scale new heights for sustainable business.