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Top Execs Feel 'Moral Duty' to Sustainability, ROI Still Main Driver

<p>A survey commissioned by Schneider Electric asked senior executives at Fortune 1000 firms what drives energy efficiency; almost all claimed a moral responsibiltiy to green initiatives, though the ROI must also justify investments.</p>

It's perhaps not surprising that, in a recent survey of senior leadership at Fortune 1000 firms commissioned by Schneider Electric, almost 90 percent admit to feeling a "moral responsibility" to addressing sustainability at their companies. After all, it's a rare business at that level that is not at least thinking about green issues.

But perhaps even more revealing -- and more promising to the continued growth of corporate sustainability -- is the fact that 61 percent of those executives said that the single biggest driver for energy efficiency and other sustainability projects is the potential cost savings from increased efficiency.

The survey, which asked over 300 senior leaders at the world's largest companies what pushes them forward on sustainability, found that, in fact, concerns about the environment rank relatively low on the survey results at 13 percent, while government regulations scored lowest of all, with just 2 percent saying that impending legislation made them likely to strive for reduced emissions.

“The findings of the survey reinforce what we’re hearing daily from our customers,” Christopher Curtis, President and CEO of Schneider Electric in North America, said in a statement. “Business leaders want to be good corporate citizens regarding their energy management, they often just don’t know where to start. At the same time, we’re in the process of emerging from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, requiring cost savings to be a key part of the solution.”

The survey's results were released on the opening day of the State of Green Business Forum in Chicago, the second of three events created by the GreenBiz Group to dig further into the findings of its annual State of Green Business Report. Schneider Electric's U.S. President, Jeff Drees, will be a featured speaker at this week's event.

Among the other findings of the survey include the fact that 10 percent said that having a CEO mandate for sustainability or efficiency initiatives was the main motivator for green initiatives. And 7 percent cited cost increases as a driver for behavior change and energy efficiency.

A secondary focus of the survey attempted to determine how Fortune 1000 leaders expect climate legislation to affect corporate sustainability initiatives. The results show a somewhat bleak outlook on emissions reductions policies: 40 percent of respondents said that cap-and-trade policies will actually cause industries to emit more greenhouse gases, and simply pass along costs of offsets and other increased business costs to customers.

Thirty-eight percent said that cap-and-trade will lead to increased energy efficiency only if revenues generated by a program are directed at R&D programs and social and educational initiatives to help encourage companies to save energy.

The survey's findings align with the results of the fourth annual State of Green Business report, published last week. That report found a continuing decrease in carbon intensity in the United State even in the absence of progress on policy or other incentives beyond cost savings and reputational benefits for environmental initiatives.

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