CEOs can’t count on winning brownie points for making such efforts, however, as customers and shareholders often see a sustainability policy as a necessary price of entry for their loyalty.
One-third of consumers regularly consider sustainability in their purchasing decisions, according to a global study by Accenture and Havas Media. The survey of 30,000 consumers in 20 countries showed that 73 percent believe businesses are failing to take care of the planet and society. And more than 80 percent of CEOs in the research said that their company’s reputation for sustainability is important to consumers. Roughly one-quarter, or 23 percent, of consumers surveyed regularly seek information on the sustainability performance of the brands whose products they purchase.
One path chosen by more CEOs is to partner with NGOs that provide much of the social impetus behind rising sustainability concerns in the first place. Often, these organizations are simply trying to “hold up” companies and are hostile and even intransigent in terms of providing meaningful cooperation with a company or industry that may be a target.
But more business chiefs are finding ways to work with these organizations to help achieve the sustainability goals that their companies increasingly are embracing. For example, General Mills has just joined the Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy coalition, with CEO Ken Powell saying that the partnership will be key as General Mills advocates for “large-scale progress” on the climate-change issue.
Among the important considerations in forming partnerships for sustainability, McKinsey said, are identifying clear reasons to collaborate, setting simple and credible goals, dedicating truly good people to the cause, being flexible in defining success, and preparing to “let go” after the partnership has served its best purposes. Companies should also consider the ROI, as many sustainability initiatives can reduce, rather than increase, costs.