Conclusion: Looking Ahead

This is part 6 of 8 from “Sustainability Nears a Tipping Point,” a report on the findings of the 2011 Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study and Research Project.

In studying the responses to this year’s survey, we have found new and strong evidence that companies are making striking commitments to sustainable business practices — investing both time and money in strategies that address competitive landscapes increasingly shaped by climate change, resource scarcity, regulatory uncertainty and economic volatility.

The balance between controlling from the top and devolving responsibility to individual business units might vary, but Harvesters recognize that they need a combination of senior leadership and integrated management in order for sustainability strategies to succeed.

They also recognize that they need to partner with organizations that lie outside their businesses, such as regulators, suppliers, NGOs and citizen groups. And once companies have established their internal structures and made investments of time and resources, almost none turn back.

Acquiring buy-in from relevant constituents for sustainable business practices can take time, and implementing these initiatives often requires advancing along a steep learning curve. We found that organizations with less than two years’ experience are 50% less likely to say that sustainability adds to their profitability than those with more than 12 years of experience with sustainability.

What does all this evidence of growing commitment, increased collaboration with external stakeholders and new management structures tell us? First, that the business case is being made — that Harvesters are looking beyond communications, risk management and reputational concerns toward concrete profits. And that they see those profits emerging not in the future — but right now.