Sustainability: The ‘Embracers’ Seize Advantage

How fast are businesses adopting sustainability-driven management? New study results reveal two distinct camps: ‘embracers’ and ‘cautious adopters.’ And the practices of the embracers may be providing a snapshot of how the management future will look.

This report on the second annual Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study by MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group reveals two distinct camps of companies: "embracers" — those who place sustainability high on their agenda — and "cautious adopters," who have yet to focus on more than energy cost savings, material efficiency, and risk mitigation.

The report identifies seven specific practices exhibited by embracer companies, which together begin to define sustainability-driven management. These include the need to move early, even if you don't have complete information; to be authentic and transparent both internally and with the external stakeholders; and to work aggressively to "de-silo" sustainability, integrating it throughout company operations.

Findings

• Improved brand reputation is perceived as the biggest benefit of addressing sustainability.

• Automotive is seen as the industry for which sustainability is most critical now.

• The commitment of the cautious adopters to sustainability is increasing at a far faster rate than that of the embracers.

• Most companies — whether currently embracers or not — are looking toward a world where sustainability is becoming a mainstream, if not required, part of the business strategy.

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Preface and Summary

A sweet spot on the adoption curve?

Chapter 1: Business Is Investing More in Competing on Sustainability

The surprising downturn response; universal first moves — waste reduction and resource efficiencies; embracers and cautious adopters: two views of the business case

FOCUS: A sustainability brand can be easily dented

Chapter 2: Who Are the Embracers?

Embracers are top performers; embracers conceive of sustainability advantage broadly; managing change on the adoption curve

FOCUS: For growing companies in growth markets, sustainability investments come easily

CASE: Unilever lengthens its time horizons

FOCUS: Intangibles and the business case

Chapter 3: World Is Tilting Toward Embracers

External forces are pushing business toward adoption; cautious adopters are aiming to catch up

FOCUS: Unlikely partners unite

Chapter 4: Follow the Leaders

How to do what the embracers do — seven emerging practices

CASE: Clorox applies mainstream principles to the business case

Conclusion

A picture of the management future

Appendix

About the research; survey questions & responses

Interviewees, Acknowledgments and Additional Support

AUTHORS

Knut Haanaes is a partner and managing director in the Oslo office of The Boston Consulting Group, as well as the global leader of BCG’s Sustainability Initiative.

David Arthur is a consultant in the Oslo office of The Boston Consulting Group.

Balu Balagopal is a senior partner and managing director in the Houston office of The Boston Consulting Group.

Ming Teck Kong is a project leader in the Singapore office of The Boston Consulting Group.

Martin Reeves is a senior partner and managing director in the New York office of The Boston Consulting Group. He is also the global leader of BCG’s Strategy Institute.

Ingrid Velken is a project leader in the Oslo office of The Boston Consulting Group.

Michael S. Hopkins is editor-in-chief of MIT Sloan Management Review, which brings ideas from the world of thinkers to the executives and managers who use them to build businesses.

Nina Kruschwitz is an editor and the special projects manager at MIT Sloan Management Review, where she coordinates the publication’s editorial and innovation hub activities.

CONTRIBUTORS

Maurice Berns, Partner and Managing Director, BCG

Keith Bussey, Project Leader, BCG

Sarah Murray, Writer

Diederik Vismans, Consultant, BCG