Nearly half of UK companies believe engagement with business leaders will be the most important factor in successfully implementing sustainability strategies in the next three years.

But, at the board level, 26% of companies have periodic meetings addressing sustainability, with just 21% of companies having directors that assess the success of sustainability initiatives.

Most (71%) companies have been able to maintain their sustainability agenda during the economic downturn. However, almost half claim that the biggest barrier to implementing their strategy is perceived high costs, coupled with a lack of belief in rates of return.

These are the findings of a new study commissioned by Coca-Cola Enterprises, which makes and bottles Coca-Cola products in Western Europe.

Developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), ‘Sustainability Insights: Learning from Business Leaders’ researched 300 European business executives to understand how sustainability strategies have performed in recent years.

“Despite the challenging economic environment, companies have largely stayed with their sustainability goals. What we are seeing now is a real shift to mainstream sustainability-related initiatives in Europe. Companies are learning how to better integrate this into their businesses profitably,” said Brian Gardner, senior editor at the EIU. “There is still a lot of room to improve but this is a profoundly positive change.”

The research identifies the need to build a stronger business case to convince the wider European business community of the value of putting sustainability at the heart of its operations.

For those companies that recognize the value of sustainability, the benefits they cite include differentiation from competitors (24%) and enhanced stakeholder engagement (38%). While only one in five (19%) cite boosted profits as a key benefit of their sustainability endeavors.

Leading companies are increasingly turning to collaboration to maximize resources and intelligence. Nearly half of businesses (43%) now work with competitors to seek out ideas for sustainability innovation, compared to only a quarter (24%) which work with NGOs and civil society.

Over the next three years, businesses say that partnerships will be important contributors to driving sustainability success.

A quarter of companies (24%) believe technological innovation will also drive the success of their sustainability strategy in the next three years. And over half (55%) say that technological developments contribute to sustainability-related innovations.

“We are proud of the progress we have made on our own sustainability journey, but the next era of sustainable business will be led by more meaningful collaboration. Working with government and society, we all need to identify the innovations that will address the significant societal and environmental issues of our time,” said John F Brock, chairman and CEO at Coca-Cola Enterprises.

“Business leaders need to embrace disruptive new approaches to sustainability – both within our own organizations and through our value chains. We need to advocate for this among the broader European business community to create breakthroughs in sustainable business.”

3 Oct. — written by Lucinda Broad , 2degrees


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