An Inside Look at How CEOs View Sustainability

Many business leaders have approached us giving markedly different assessments of the opportunities they see and the challenges they face since last year's CEO study on sustainability by the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and Accenture.

It is clear that there is no unified view of sustainability, let alone a single snapshot of progress. There are real differences in attitudes, approaches and obstacles from sector to sector. What is clear, however, is that CEOs believe environmental, social and governance issues are becoming increasingly material to business performance and future success, and a growing number of companies are looking at the growth and innovation opportunity it might promise.

Today, Georg Kell, UNGC executive director, joins me and Sander van 't Noordende, Accenture's group chief executive of management consulting, as we unveil seven industry deep-dive studies based on the most comprehensive CEO survey on sustainability in business to date, spanning 766 CEOs across the globe.

We are launching these studies on Sustainability 24, a global online experience which brings together hundreds of leaders from the private and public sectors for a series of debates and discussions on business and sustainable development.

There's no surprise that, at this relatively early stage for more commercially driven sustainability at scale, most industries see the main opportunity in enhanced trust, brand and reputation. Fully 85 percent of banking CEOs, and 75 percent of those in consumer goods, report that enhanced brand, trust and reputation will be an important opportunity presented by sustainability over the next five years.

Significantly, we are also beginning to see sustainability issues reshaping demand across industries, leading CEOs to perceive their response to these challenges as a core part of their growth and innovation agenda. Seventy-nine percent of consumer goods CEOs, for example, see the consumer as a primary stakeholder in driving their action on sustainability: Consumer electronics companies Philips and Siemens now view a significant proportion of their revenues driven by products and services which help consumers address their own environmental impact.

Similarly, 67 percent of automotive CEOs, and 61 percent of those in banking, report an important role for the consumer in shaping their response to sustainability challenges: For the automotive sector, consumer demand for new mobility solutions will provide new waves of growth, and banks' response to sustainability challenges will play an integral role in rebuilding public trust in business.