The Private Side of Sustainability Is Sexy Too: Engaging CEOs in More Than Just Sustainable Window Dressing

There seems to be a problem.  An influential group of global CEOs list brand, trust and reputation as their “primary considerations for acting on sustainability.”  Motivators like revenue growth and cost reduction, consumer demand, employee engagement and retention and personal motivation lagged significantly behind.

Many CEOs seem to have reversed cause and effect. Brand trust and reputation are the result of a company’s sustainability actions. Are we being set up for a decade of window dressing and cause-washing as companies cobble together sustainability programs to burnish their public image?

These findings were published last week by the United Nations Global Compact and Accenture. Internationally, 766 CEOs were polled on sustainability and business with 72% identifying brand, trust and reputation as their biggest motivator for sustainability, 44% citing revenue growth and cost reduction, 42% personal motivation, 39% consumer demand and 31% employee engagement and retention.

Seven years ago we would have celebrated the fact that 93% of these CEOs see sustainability as critical to their companies’ success. But really, how can that be disputed? Today, sustainability is fundamental. The remaining 7% will be swept along or swept away soon enough.

So the challenge I see is exciting business leaders and employees about the non-public facing side of sustainability. How can we communicate the subjective and financial value of creating a sustainable workplace? Or of reducing waste? Or switching to environmentally preferred materials?  We need more Interfaces–companies that transform their entire system and resource selection, not their advertising and marketing strategies–and less (Product) RED-like campaigns.*

*I have a lot of respect for the (Product) RED campaign for the money and awareness it has raised and for the way it’s allowed diverse companies to get involved. But we’re evolving past the stage of one-off (even long-term) cause marketing campaigns to significant systems change.

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