BOSTON (March 16, 12:50 p.m. ET) — The sustainability movement is approaching a tipping point, with seven out of 10 companies now placing it on their permanent management agenda, according to a new report.
“I think some of the important findings are that sustainability has continued to progress from something that was on the fringe of management to being a fairly core issue now,” said Martin Reeves, senior partner and managing director for Boston Consulting Group.
“When you have two-thirds of companies saying they're planning to do more, it's essential for competitiveness across sectors à it's a turning point in the sense that sustainably has become a mainstream management issue.”
More than 4,000 managers from 113 countries were surveyed for BCG's and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan Management Review's “2011 Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study and Research Project.” The survey focused on the nearly 3,000 executives from the commercial sector.
According to the respondents, 70 percent of companies have put sustainability permanently on their management agendas. Two-thirds said sustainability was necessary to being competitive in today's marketplace, up from 55 percent in the previous year's survey.
“What's been a little surprising is that that momentum has continued through the great recession,” said Reeves, one of the study's co-authors and leader of BCG's Strategy Institute. “We haven't really seen a slowing down of commitments.”
Increasing commitment to sustainability initiatives is happening despite an underwhelming economy, the report found, with 68 percent saying their organization's commitment to sustainability has increased in the past year. In 2009, just 35 percent of companies said this was the case.
“What happens is the leaders pull the rest along, in a good way,” said Dave Stangis, vice president of corporate social responsibility and sustainability for Campbell Soup Co. “You're going to see more and more companies come up with differentiated strategies that really leverage their strengths.”
The climate of corporate sustainability is a testament to companies seeing the value in it, Stangis said, “not just from a communications standpoint, but from a risk management, speed, agility, decision-making, innovation and results standpoint.”
But this positive data doesn't mean all of these companies have put green at the top of their list. While sustainability has made it on the radar of top management agendas, the report found that it ranks just eighth in importance among their other agenda items.
“Our job is to make this not another agenda item, [but] to make it just part of all those other agenda items,” Stangis said.
At Camden, N.J.-based Campbell Soup, four teams promote sustainability in areas such as the environment and community. Some of the highlights from Campbell's most recent sustainability report include reducing waste by more than 3 million pounds at its Sacramento, Calif., operation. The company also redeveloped its products' packaging to save at least 3.5 million pounds of steel and hundreds of thousands of pounds in paper, cardboard and plastic.
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