Many CEOs want to make a difference. Convinced that companies should play a positive role in environmental stewardship and social development, they declare sustainability a top priority, launch a transformation program, hire a chief sustainability officer, and commit millions of dollars and hundreds of hours of management time to the effort. Then momentum fades. It’s a frustrating setback—and a common one. Bain research on corporate transformation programs shows only 12% achieve or exceed their aims. For sustainability, that figure is just 2% .

Why? Sustainability transformations add another dimension of challenge. Often, enthusiastic leadership teams overlook the difficulties frontline employees confront when implementing new approaches. If employees feel forced to choose between sustainability targets and business targets, for example, most choose business targets. As a result, corner-office passion remains stuck at the top.

Sustainability leaders overcome organizational resistance by changing attitudes and behaviors. They rethink processes and incentives and confront the prevailing mindset that sees sustainability as bad for business. Armed with a new way of thinking, employees bring about change, rather than resist it.

Organizational change takes time and management commitment, but companies that succeed say it’s worth the investment. Sustainability efforts can invigorate the core business, bolster the customer value proposition, secure the supply of key resources, lower operational costs and improve employee satisfaction.

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