There are a number of external pressures that are pushing companies toward greater engagement with sustainability efforts: New regulations, stakeholder and shareholder requests for transparency, and a push for cost reductions through greater efficiency.
Although the general perception is that chief financial officers (CFOs) at large companies have been slow to take the reins on sustainability, research published today by Deloitte suggests that not only is that perception slightly off, but that CFOs are moving toward the center of corporate sustainability.
One-third of CFOs surveyed on behalf of Deloitte by Verdantix said that they're "fully involved in all aspects" of sustainability strategy at their firms; another 36 percent said they are periodically involved.
Of course, another third of CFOs said they still had little to no involvement in sustainability, meaning there is still progress to be made.
"The findings of the survey suggest that CFOs can and should take a more energetic role in embedding sustainability into business strategy if they want to gain a competitive edge," Nick Main, Global Leader of Sustainability & Climate Change Services at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, said in a statement. "It is clear that volatility in commodity prices, new environmental regulations, calls for greater transparency about non-financial performance, and a range of other drivers are compelling management teams to deal with the sustainability imperative in a manner that supports their business goals."
One area where increased focuse is needed is in the mergers and acquisitions space, the survey found. Only 29 percent of CFOs said that M&As could be affected by sustainability, but Main pointed out that everything from site remediation to regulation sanctions are sustainability issues and risks that fall under merger and acquisitions activities.
Similarly, CFOs will necessarily need to be involved in planned investments in renewable energy systems, energy efficiency initiatives or efforts to reduce emissions from industrial plants -- all of which will require greater engagement on sustainability from the CFO.
The report closes with five suggestions to help CFOs get up to speed:
1. Cover the basics: Incorporating sustainability into day-to-day operations.
2. Focus on sustainability issues in investment and M&A activities: Look at existing and new facilities from an environmental standpoint.
3. Look at how sustainability affects the markets: Energy and materials costs are on a roller-coaster ride due to environmental issues.
4. Gear up for stakeholder requests: Stakeholder and shareholder requests for sustainability are steadily increasing.
5. Build a sustainability-minded finance team: Getting the CFO up to speed can be done in part by bringing on board a staff that can look at finance issues through a sustainability lens.
This study is just the latest in a series of recent looks at how corporate finance officers are starting to get up to speed on sustainability. A report published earlier this year looked at how sustainability has expanded the CFO's job description, and GreenBiz contributor Paul Baier back in June described seven trends every CFO needs to know.
The free report is available for download from Deloitte.