A new path towards sustainability?

Published on Friday, 10 October 2014

Are companies still engaged in sustainability? This simple but essential question is at the core of the study conducted by the Enel Study Centre Foundation and The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which was presented at the second CSR and Social Innovation Forum that was held in Milan at the Bocconi University on October 7 and 8.

New Business Models: Shared value in the 21st century, as the study is called, finds that 66 percent of companies believe there is a link between sustainability and long-term financial performance. More managers also understand the wider importance of sustainability and the increasing efforts to embed it into their strategies.

The report also shows an increasing minority of business managers who do not believe there is a link between sustainability and long-term financial performance. This is up to 11 percent - an increase from 6 percent in a similar survey carried out in 2011. More managers also say they are facing "sustainability obstacles" in their business, with 52% saying immediate financial goals take precedence over long-term sustainability.

The study conducted by the Enel Foundation and the EIU was presented at the CSR Forum during the workshop "Sustainability in business activities: changes and opportunities" by The Economist Intelligence Unit director of Research for Continental Europe Aviva Freudmann, and by the Head of research on sustainable development and innovation of the Enel Study Centre Foundation Renata Mele.

Aviva Freudmann, the editor of the report said: "In uncertain financial times, a short-termism has crept at some companies, but the overall picture shows that sustainability concerns continue to weave their way into new business models. In fact, we found that two-thirds of firms are reviewing their sustainability strategies to ensure long-term viability regardless of the economic cycle."

The Economist Intelligence Unit surveyed 285 senior executives, mostly in Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America, on their approaches to sustainability, their experiences in measuring and reporting sustainability outcomes, and their plans to explore new business models to ensure long-term sustainability. More than half (58  percent) of the 285 respondents are executives at C-level or above; approximately 60 percent are responsible for strategy and business development at their companies. Around 37 percent represent businesses with US$500m or more in annual revenue. Companies in the professional services, financial services and manufacturing sectors have the strongest representation in the survey. Approximately 58 percent are based in developing countries.