Visualizing sustainability's rewards via MIT's new interactive tool

MIT Sloan Management Review released the results of its latest global survey on sustainability and innovation earlier this month, revealing that a significant number of companies see the value of sustainable business practices -- and are reaping the financial rewards.

For the first time, the results were released in an interactive data visualization format. The new tool allows readers to filter the data by industry, company size, company performance and other factors. Presenting the data this way yielded several interesting findings:

The automotive sector gets it: The automotive industry leads the way in making the business case for sustainability. However, when it comes to profitability, automotive is only in the middle of the pack; the consumer products industry is at the top, with 42 percent of consumer products respondents saying that they are profiting from their sustainability activities.

High reputational benefits: Improved brand reputation is the greatest benefit companies enjoy from addressing sustainability issues. This is especially true in the automotive, consumer products and media/entertainment industries.

Customers drive sustainability: Of the “harvesters,” those respondents who say their companies are profiting from sustainability-related activities, 53 percent indicate that customer preference for sustainable offerings was a key driver in changing their business model. In the more resource-intensive industries, such as chemicals and energy and utilities, issues such as legislative or political pressure and maintaining a "license to operate" increase in influence.  

Size matters: Overall, the larger the company, the more likely that it will make a business case for sustainability. But that trend varies across industries — in industrial services, for example, companies with more than 100,000 employees were less likely to make a business case for sustainability than companies with 200 - 1,000 employees within the same industry.

Special features

In MIT SMR’s data visualization tool, dropdown menus allow users to isolate information about a specific industry, interactive legends focus the information by company size or spending, industry-specific data can be compared to average value over all industries and regions, and the raw data can be downloaded as comma-separated values (CSV) for viewing in Microsoft Excel and other applications.

Customized views of the data can be saved and shared as an image (png) or a PDF file, or a customized subset of the data as a CSV or text file.

All of these features allow the user to answer several key questions: Who Is making a business case for sustainability? Who is profiting from sustainability?

This data is adapted from the report, “Sustainability Nears a Tipping Point,” by Knut Haanaes, Martin Reeves, Ingrid von Streng Velken, Michael Audretsch, David Kiron and Nina Kruschwitz, which was published by MIT Sloan Management Review in January 2012. The report is part of MIT SMR’s research and content theme, Sustainability & Innovation. The complete report is available at http://mitsmr.com/JeRpjY

Copyright © Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2012. All rights reserved.