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New Study Shows Execs and Consumers Doubt Corporate Commitment to Sustainability

By Melissa J. Anderson

Despite an outpouring of recent high-level corporate commitment to sustainability, a new study has shown that serious doubts about the topic are growing amongst both consumers and business leaders.

According to the July study, “2010 Gibbs & Soell Sense & Sustainability” (PDF), “only 16 percent of U.S. consumers and 29 percent of Fortune 1000 executives believe that a majority of businesses are committed to sustainability.”

The survey, which consisted of a nationally representative sample of 2,605 U.S. adults and a nationally representative sample of 304 Fortune 1000 executives, could mean a few things. Either support for these kinds of programs is waning or companies haven’t done a good enough job of proving their commitment to sustainability – to consumers, and to each other.

Obstacles to Going Green – Cost and Evaluation

According to the study:

“Most executives cite insufficient return on investment (78%) and consumers’ unwillingness to pay a premium for green products or services (71%) as the primary obstacles to more businesses ‘going green.’”

The report continues, “Additionally, more than 2 in 5 executives (45%) reported difficulty in evaluating sustainability across the entire life cycle of a product as a barrier to ‘going green.'”

A belief that going green is either too costly, or doesn’t show enough of a return has been one of the major drawbacks to corporate sustainability in recent times – especially as companies have been forced to “tighten their belts,” and prove to shareholders that their business practices are producing results.

This kind of thinking is unfortunately short-sighted. The returns afforded by corporate sustainability don’t appear over night, or even over the next quarter. Even the word “sustainability” implies a long-haul commitment.

Who’s In Charge Here, Anyway?

This poll provided valuable insight to the corporate sustainability issue – and why it’s important that we stay focused on it. It’s easy to praise the few superstars in the corporate world that are doing good things for the planet. Unfortunately, as the study shows, there are plenty of companies that aren’t doing enough.

“While more than two-thirds of executives (69%) say their companies have people responsible for sustainability, most have only added responsibilities for green efforts to the primary duties of a team of individuals (35%), or a C-suite or another senior level position (15%).”

This shows that sustainability is only a side project for a large percentage of the individuals answering for it. Dedicated sustainability teams would more likely produce better returns on investment in this sphere.

The report continued:

“Only about 1 in 10 (12%) report that their company has a C-suite or other senior level title/position dedicated solely to sustainability. 31% noted there is no one at their company who is responsible

for ‘going green’ initiatives.”

Almost a third of the individuals surveyed said there’s no one at their company in charge of green initiatives. This should serve as a wake-up call to those who think corporate sustainability is a non-issue.

Finally, one finding can be seen as positive – the study revealed that the larger a company is, the more likely it is to have resources devoted to sustainability. And the bigger the company, the larger its likely impact on the environment. It’s good news that most larger corporations take note of this. Hopefully as mid-sized companies continue to grow, they will take begin to take heed of their impact on the environment as well.

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