Today, there probably isn’t a com-pany anywhere in the world thatdoes not at least acknowledge theimportance of sustainability—of do-ing business in an environmentallyand socially responsible way.Indeed, for many companies,sustainability is now as much of astrategic priority as such traditionalbusiness concerns as technology,talent and customers. The commit-ment to sustainability has weatheredthe storm of the downturn well; insome cases, it has even been strength-ened by it. Meanwhile, an emergingbody of research suggests that sus-tainable business practices correlateclosely with high performance.On an operational level, however,sustainability is not yet seamlesslywoven into the fabric of business.Executives still must make, almostdaily, difcult trade-offs betweenpractices that meet short-termbusiness needs and those that willcontribute to sustaining the needsof future generations. A new research study from Accen-ture, in partnership with the UnitedNations, captures the dilemma of the world’s CEOs, who are caughtbetween the long-term perspectiveof sustainability and the near-termpressures of the bottom line.* This conict can be seen on another level as well: Investments insustainability today are seldomreected in next quarter’s earningsannouncement. This misalignment,which is, of course, a function of basic nancial performance analysis,must be reconciled before sus-tainability can be integrated andembedded in operations—that is,before sustainability becomes atruly integral part of what it meansto be a high-performance business. According to the Accenture–UNresearch, 93 percent of CEOssurveyed globally see sustainabilityas important to their companies’future success. Across a number of parameters, corporate commitmentto sustainability has increased sincethe last time a similar CEO surveywas conducted in 2007.
Sustainability and performance
Such commitment is also beingrewarded in terms of businessperformance. Accenture Sustainabil-ity Services, in conjunction withthe company’s Institute for HighPerformance, recently compared thebusiness performance and sustain-ability performance data of a repre-sentative cross-industry group of 275companies from the Fortune Global1,000. The research found that the50 companies ranked highest insustainability leadership (based onexternal factors such as inclusionin commonly used sustainabilityindexes or adherence to voluntarysustainability agreements) alsooutperformed their peers in terms of shareholder returns.Specically, the 50 sustainabilityleaders:
Outperformed the bottom-per-forming 50 companies in three- year total return to shareholdersby 16 percentage points, andoutperformed the middle groupof 50 average sustainability peersby 6 percentage points.
Exceeded their bottom- and mid-dle-50 peers in ve-year share-
* “A New Era of Sustainability: UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study 2010.” The United NationsGlobal Compact—a policy platform and a practical framework for companies that are committedto sustainability and responsible business practices—administers a survey of its CEO members every twoyears. The latest report, conducted in collaboration with Accenture, was based on an online survey of 766 Global Compact CEOs and more than 100 in-depth interviews with member executives, civil societyleaders, external experts and UN Global Compact board members.