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Commitment to Sustainability in 2011 Grows Significantly

Despite the economic downturn and tenuous recovery, more than two-thirds of businesses are strengthening their commitment to sustainability, according to a new global study by MIT Sloan Management Review (MIT SMR) and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

The study, titled "Sustainability: The ‘Embracers' Seize Advantage," found that 69% of companies plan to step up their investment in and management of sustainability this year. Just over one-quarter (26%) plan no change, and only 2% intend to cut back on their commitment.

The second annual Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study comprises a survey of more than 3,100 corporate leaders representing every major industry and region of the world and more than 30 in-depth interviews with experts from a range of disciplines, such as energy science, civil engineering, management, and urban studies.
The study also found that a two-speed landscape is emerging, with a gap between sustainability “embracers”—those that place sustainability high on their agenda—and nonembracers, or “cautious adopters,” that have yet to focus on more than energy cost savings, material efficiency, and risk mitigation.

Embracers are significantly more confident about their competitive position than nonembracers are. Seventy percent of embracers said they believe their organizations outperform industry peers. By contrast, only 53% of cautious adopters described themselves as outperformers, and 14% admitted to lagging behind peers—more than twice the percentage of embracers that made the same claim (6%).

In addition, nearly three times as many embracers (66%) than cautious adopters (23%) said that their organization’s sustainability actions and decisions have increased their profits.

“What’s fascinating is that our findings depict a business landscape in general that’s tilting hard toward where the embracers already are,” said Michael Hopkins, editor in chief of MIT SMR and a coauthor of the report. “So the embracers have handed us a kind of crystal ball. Their insights and behaviors suggest a blueprint for how management practice and competitive strategy will evolve.”

For more details on the study’s findings and interview transcripts, please visit the Sustainability & Innovation Website at http://sloanreview.mit.edu/sustainability-advantage

About the Author(s)

Florence Stone is editorial director of American Management Association.