Climate Change, Energy Efficiency Top Business Priorities: BSR Survey

Climate Change, Energy Efficiency Top Business Priorities: BSR Survey

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[Editor's Note: This article is part of GreenBiz.com's coverage of the 2009 Business for Social Responsibility conference. To read all our coverage, visit GreenBiz.com/BSR2009.]

Climate change, human rights and energy efficiency are some of the top priorities in business leaders' sustainability strategies, according to a survey of BSR Conference 2009 attendees. And just as important, a large majority of companies expect their sustainability budgets will stay the same or increase, making sure they have the money to enact the actions they want to.

The BSR/GlobeScan State of Sustainable Business Poll 2009 (PDF) polled 274 business leaders attending the conference in San Francisco.

When asked to list "very significant" priorities over the next year, 41 percent chose climate change, 32 percent cited human rights, 29 percent said workers' rights and 26 percent listed water availability/quality.

More companies are not only more focused on sustainability and environmental issues, but they expect to have the funds to support their climate strategies. Eighty-nine percent said their companies' sustainability budgets will stay the same or increase, with only 8 percent saying that their budgets will decrease (in 2008, 31 percent said their budgets would decrease).

The top strategy related to climate change is energy efficiency, mentioned by 44 percent, and a large number of businesses see significant opportunities coming from lowering energy costs and/or other efficiencies (70 percent), improving stakeholder relationships (67 percent), driving innovation (65 percent) and strengthening credibility with consumers (65 percent).

Businesses also see many barriers to addressing climate change, but fewer companies see them as significant compared to the opportunities cited above. The barriers mentioned were competing strategic priorities (49 percent), short-term financial pressures/recession (46 percent), complexity of implementation (44 percent) and uncertain/insufficient policy frameworks (40 percent).

When asked to choose actions that companies should take to rebuild public trust that was lose due to the economic crisis, 39 percent said that companies should create innovative products and business models designed for sustainability, and 38 percent said companies should measure and demonstrate positive social and environmental impacts. Only 4 percent said companies should reform executive compensation.

Aron Cramer, president and CEO of BSR, said that he has seen an increase of attention given to the idea of "sustainable consumption" this year. "Until recently, companies have been very reluctant to talk about this topic," he said. "If Walmart is thinking about this question and trying to maintain its success while significantly reducing the material input of products its selling...I think that has the potential to change people's minds."

Cramer also cited the work Nike has done with its Considered Design initiative and a beverage company, which he could not name, that told him it's future might be in selling products as powder packets instead of liquids in cans and bottles.

"These experiments are very important right now," Cramer said.

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