Climate-induced wildfires, massive storms, and deadly heat waves, along with the complexities around managing sustainable supply chains and emissions reduction, have awoken the corporate world to the planet’s stark realities of climate change.  Sustainability and environmental impact have become top of mind for executives across the world,  with many starting to prioritize sustainable changes to how they operate.  In a new global survey of 1,491 executives across 16 countries conducted by The Harris Poll for Google Cloud, business leaders shared their views on prioritization, challenges and opportunities for sustainability. 

Sustainability tops business priorities

Environmental, Social, and Governance initiatives came out as a top organizational priority, on par with evolving or adjusting business models, with close to 10% of a company’s budget going to sustainability efforts. Executives are willing to grow their business in a way that is sustainable, even if it means lower revenue in the near future.

At face value, 80% of executives give their organization an above average rating for their environmental sustainability effort. Eighty-six percent (86%) believe their efforts are making a difference in advancing sustainability.

But many executives aren’t measuring impact

The research showed a troubling gap between how well companies think they’re doing, and how accurately they’re able to measure it. Only 36% of respondents said their organizations have measurement tools in place to quantify their sustainability efforts, and just 17% are using those measurements to optimize based on results.

Without accurate measurement, it’s hard to report genuine progress – 58% agree that green hypocrisy exists and their organization has overstated their sustainability efforts, with executives in Financial Services and  Supply Chain/Logistics with the highest admission at 66% and 65% respectively. Roughly two-thirds (66%) questioned how genuine some of their organization’s sustainability initiatives are.

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Executives want more transparency

Businesses across industries struggle to quantify their sustainability efforts, with 65% agreeing they want to advance sustainability efforts, but don’t know how to actually do it – executives in Supply Chain/Logistics and Healthcare/Life Science top the list at 79% and 74% respectively, and retail at just 54%.

Leadership towards sustainability starts at the top of the organizational chart. When asked which groups are enabling organizational sustainability, 53% pointed to board members and senior leaders. But they hunger for more: 82% agreed with the statement, “I wish our board or senior leadership gave us more room to prioritize sustainability.”

Executives want more transparency and opportunity to overcome their top barriers – 87% agree that if business leaders can be more honest about the issues they face with becoming more environmentally sustainable, they can make meaningful progress.

The majority (82%) of executives wish they had more room to prioritize sustainability.

Turning climate optimism into business transformation

If executives can overcome challenges, 74% of executives believe sustainability can drive powerful business transformations. Technology and sustainability are the top two areas where executives plan to increase investment in 2022, and executives see them as uniquely intertwined: Technology innovation is the top area executives believe will have the most impact in tackling sustainability challenges. Additionally, about three in four executives (78%) cite technology as critical for their future sustainability efforts, attesting that it helps transform operations, socialize their initiatives more broadly, and measure and report on the impact of their efforts.

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The good news is that it’s still early for many companies’ sustainability journeys – the majority (more than half) of executives say they are in the planning and early implementation phases of sustainability transformations so there’s progress to be made. The challenging news is we need urgent action from all industries now to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

At Google Cloud, we’re committed to helping our customers use cloud technology to achieve their sustainability goals and do more for the planet. We operate the cleanest cloud in the industry, and because of that, we recognize that building a more sustainable business is not easy. Here, sustainability teams always have a seat at the planning table, so we can work together on using cloud technology to build a more sustainable future.

For a deeper look at executive attitudes toward sustainability, check out the full report.