Study: UK business slow to take action on sustainability

U.K. organizations are failing to realize the business benefits of sustainability programs, according to a major study by the Economist Intelligence Unit sponsored by BT.

The research, which surveyed more than 1,100 executives internationally, found that while half (50 percent) said that sustainability programs helped improve brand value, fewer than one in six (16 percent) felt they improved profitability.

And the research found that U.K. organizations lag behind their global counterparts when it comes to engaging their employees with sustainability initiatives, with far fewer people in the U.K. (26 percent) have been given sustainability goals to achieve, compared with a global average of 37 percent.

The proportion of U.K. executives whose remuneration is dependent on hitting sustainability goals is half that of the global average (9 percent as opposed to 18 percent).

Nearly one third (29 percent) of U.K. respondents admitted that their company only makes sustainability efforts in markets where it is perceived to have an impact on customers’ perceptions of the firm, and a similar proportion (25 percent) admitted that their company’s sustainability efforts mostly centered on communication rather than actual change.

James Watson, senior editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said: “Many companies are moving away from mere rhetoric towards real business initiatives.

However, a gap remains between what companies claim they are achieving in terms of managing their social and environmental impacts and the extent to which their executives feel involved in these activities. Companies need to devise strategies that do more to engage staff in sustainability through their day-to-day activities.”

The research went on to identify that sustainability programs were missing out on board-level leadership.

In more than one third of U.K. organizations (35 percent), the person responsible for sustainability did not report directly to the board, while 25 percent of organizations had no person responsible for such matters. Fewer U.K. companies have consulted on how execs can interpret sustainability in the context of their job than the global average (22 percent against 34 percent).