esults from one of the world’s largest annual surveys ofcorporate sustainability executives underscore the importance of collaboration among business and external stakeholders to address climate change, among other key issues, in order to improve sustainability performance. This year, more than 700 business leaders from BSR’s global member network responded to the fifth annual BSR/GlobeScan State of Sustainable Business Survey 2013—the largest survey response to date.
“The survey reveals both the sense of urgency to address climate change, and the sense that meaningful progress goes well beyond the steps a single company can take,” observed Aron Cramer, President and CEO of BSR. “No one sector—not business, government, civil society, or consumers—can ‘save us’ from climate change. The survey demonstrates a maturing understanding of this truth, and the need to generate truly collaborative solutions through creativity and new approaches—which we will explore next week at the BSR Conference 2013in San Francisco.”
Additional topline findings from this survey include:
- When asked to choose which sustainability issues need collaboration the most, climate change and public policy frameworks promoting sustainability are ranked highest.
- Only one in five companies has fully integrated sustainability into business.
- Engagement between sustainability functions and corporate functions such as marketing, R&D, and finance remains very low.
- Collaboration by BSR member companies focuses more often on engagement with NGOs and other businesses than it does on engagement with government.
A Work in Progress: Companywide Collaboration on Sustainability
For the third year in a row, when asked about the most important leadership challenge for business today, 62 percent of respondents noted the integration of sustainability into core business operations. This was far higher than the next most frequently cited challenge, convincing investors about the value of sustainability (28 percent).
In this year’s survey, respondents were asked for the first time to indicate the extent to which sustainability is integrated into the core of their business. The findings show that significant integration has taken place only within about one in five companies: 21 percent report that their company is close to full integration. A majority say that their company is either about halfway to integration (51 percent), or is just getting started (22 percent).
The challenge of integrating sustainability throughout the business is reinforced by evidence that sustainability professionals continue to have low levels of engagement with their colleagues in other functions. Survey respondents note a lower level, and decreasing, engagement between sustainability functions and corporate functions, such as investor relations (with 37 percent of those surveyed saying they engage with investor relations, down 1 point from 2011), human resources (34 percent, down 3 points), R&D (32 percent, down 9 points), marketing (28 percent, down 14 points), and finance (16 percent, down 2 points).
Chris Coulter, CEO at GlobeScan, noted: “The trend toward weaker engagement between sustainability functions and core functions such as finance, marketing, HR, investor relations, and R&D, is concerning. Not only is engagement limited with these strategic areas, but collaboration between them and sustainability teams has declined—in some cases by a significant margin. While there is a clear need for external collaboration, there is an equally important case to be made for greater internal collaboration.”
The survey revealed continued high levels of engagement between sustainability functions and their counterparts in corporate communications. A majority of those surveyed said they engage regularly with corporate communications (75 percent, down 2 points from 2011), public affairs (66 percent, down 2 points), supply chain (64 percent, no change), and the CEO’s office (59 percent, down 1 point).
External Collaboration Most Extensive with NGOs, Industry Groups, and Corporations
Corporate sustainability professionals also were surveyed on the extent and importance of collaboration with external stakeholders. The most frequent type of collaboration occurs between business and NGOs, with 76 percent of respondents saying their companies regularly collaborate with NGOs.
A similar proportion surveyed say they collaborate regularly with industry associations (75 percent) and other companies (70 percent). Fewer companies collaborate often with governments (46 percent) or media (27 percent), both of which are rated as the most difficult partners for collaboration.
To access the complete report and all findings, click here.