Sustainability Leadership Has More Impact Than CEO Engagement

Image credit: iStockphoto/Petmal

The conversation around sustainability leadership has shifted in recent years from one focused purely on environmental goals to a much broader discussion about how businesses can create value for all stakeholders — including shareholders, employees, customers, and society at large. 

A recent survey from the SustainAbility Institute by ERM and GlobeScan found that this shift is reflected in the way companies are assessed on their sustainability leadership. 

The GlobeScan / SustainAbility Survey: 2022 Sustainability Leaders surveyed over 700 sustainability professionals across 73 countries in March and April this year. Previously, high-profile CEO engagement and strong communication around sustainability were critical indicators of recognized leadership. 

However, companies are now increasingly considered leaders for putting sustainability at the core of their business models and strategies and for reporting on the tangible outcomes of their sustainability initiatives. 

In the Asia Pacific, this shift is reflected in the sectors that are considered to be leading the region’s sustainability transition. In the region, climate change is seen as the most urgent sustainability issue, followed by biodiversity loss and water scarcity.

The ICT, Automotive, and Life Sciences / Biotechnology sectors are seen as the most sustainability-focused, with 36%, 33%, and 26% of respondents, respectively, viewing them as leaders. 

Over the next 20 years, the report notes that national governments, the private sector, and multi-sectoral partnerships are expected to lead the sustainable development agenda.  Among NGOs, the World Wildlife Fund is the most recognized leader in sustainable development, at 35% globally and 24% in the Asia Pacific. 

The survey also found that while corporate sustainability leadership in the Asia Pacific is still led by multinational companies headquartered outside the region, several Asian companies are starting to emerge as sustainability leaders. 

Tata (13%), City Developments Ltd (6%), and Mahindra (4%) are the most recognized sustainability leaders among companies headquartered in the region. This regional leadership is attributed to the integration of sustainability into the business strategy (16%), evidence of impacts/actions (10%), and products/services (9%). 

"The rise of the regional sustainability leaders shows a greater diversity of corporate sustainability leadership in the Asia Pacific. The survey findings validate our observations that leading listed companies are charting in the right direction. However, there lies a gap as many are still transitioning from a checklist approach to identifying and operationalizing material climate change actions into their business, to bring about meaningful impact," said Mark Errington, APAC regional chief executive officer at ERM.

"ICT is leading the pack in the Asia Pacific — apart from setting net-zero targets upon themselves, many are working with their suppliers to expand the sustainability goals across their supply chain. The research around the electric vehicle and battery recycling will inevitably benefit across industries. With digital transformation and increased uptake in renewables in the region, we are positive that the sustainability agenda will be accelerated across the Asia Pacific," he added.

Image credit: iStockphoto/Petmal