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Business Leaders: Sustainability Increasingly Driving Strategic Planning

September 2018

Three quarters of business leaders say that sustainability needs to be a cohesive element of business strategy, and companies are increasingly using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as their strategic north star, with more than 70 percent reporting they either currently use or intend to use them to set targets.

These are some of the major findings of the 10th Annual BSR/GlobeScan State of Sustainable Business survey, which provides insight into the world of sustainable business and identifies common perceptions and practices of corporate sustainability professionals.

In addition to measuring shifting priorities and challenges in corporate sustainability among sustainability leaders, this year’s survey presented a unique opportunity to understand how business is responding to the changing societal landscape. 

“Many companies understand that contributing to achieving the SDGs is not only a responsibility, but also a business opportunity,” said Laura Gitman, BSR’s Chief Operating Officer. “These new findings are a strong indication that, more and more, they are also taking tangible steps to integrate sustainability into their core business strategies.”

“However, deep engagement between the sustainability team and many other important functions is still fairly low, presenting challenges for deeper integration of sustainability into the core business,” said James Morris, Director at GlobeScan. “The business opportunity of sustainability can only be truly captured when the sustainability team is able to influence functions like marketing, product development, human resources, and investor relations.”

Among other key findings:

  • Corporate integrity and diversity and inclusion, while longstanding corporate issues, are top priorities for sustainability efforts in 2018 — perhaps a reflection of recent political, technological, and social transformations that have accelerated socially responsible activism.  
  • Climate change and human rights remain in the top four sustainability priority issues, while less than half of companies are prioritizing inclusive growth or public policy frameworks.
  • 41 percent of companies report no change in their approach to women’s empowerment issues, despite mass social attention through movements like #MeToo.
  • Companies regard AI and disruptive tech, data security, and climate change as important megatrends, but less so the resulting economic inequality and political instability that cascades down as a result. This is a disconnect that doesn’t take into account the secondary impacts of these important megatrends.
  • Climate action (SDG 13), responsible consumption (SDG 12), gender equality (SDG 5), decent work, and economic growth (SDG 8) are the Sustainable Development Goals that receive the most corporate attention. Fewer than one in five companies are focusing commitments around no poverty (SDG 1), zero hunger (SDG 2), and reduced inequalities (SDG 10).
  • Companies have limited focus on value chain impacts: They take an inconsistent approach to addressing key issues across their value chains, with efforts to go beyond their own operations still limited.

In spite of the growing interest in aligning strategy with the SDGs, there is a need for more cross-functional collaboration: Sustainability teams still struggle to get traction with strategic planning and core business functions. There is surprisingly limited engagement with investor relations, marketing, or human resources—despite the recognized significance of investors, customers, and employees as key drivers of sustainability.

The BSR/GlobeScan State of Sustainable Business survey was fielded fully online among the BSR member network, with responses collected between March 22 and May 16, 2018. All field work and stakeholder outreach was managed independently by GlobeScan. You can download the entire survey here.

For more information contact:

David Stearns, Director of Communications, BSR
dstearns@bsr.org
+1 718-501-8666

Stacy Rowland, Director, Public Relations and Communications, GlobeScan
Stacy.rowland@globescan.com
+1 416-962-0707


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David Stearns
Director, Communications and Marketing
+1 718 501 8666
media@bsr.org


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Stéphanie Leblanc
Associate Director, Communications
+33 7 63 99 32 51
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