The end of the calendar year traditionally signals a reflective look at the year’s highlights. Often, in hindsight, these are seen as particular turning points, when change became perceptible. And while 2015 may emerge as the year that business finally began to engage in earnest with climate change, that development may be connected to an even more significant development. Beyond climate change, 2015 may mark the documented start of a broader and deeper engagement by business with sustainability.

Earlier this year, Ethical Corporation released its first State of Sustainability Report. The report is the first comprehensive global survey of sustainability managers and professionals. It contains a snapshot of the current state of sustainability around the world and aims to show why and how businesses are approaching the concept. Nearly 1,500 respondents provided responses that shed light and provide insights on:

  • the significance of sustainability in the company,
  • the organization of sustainability operations,
  • sustainability budgets and returns, and
  • future prospects for sustainability.

What did the report reveal?  Some conclusions emerge about the benefits that sustainability work provides to broader business strategy, and the challenges in identifying and seizing opportunities for deeper integration:

Sustainability’s value to business is increasingly recognized:

  • CEOs understand the value of sustainability. 71% believed their CEO or organizational leader is convinced of the value of sustainability.
  • Sustainability drives revenue and cost-savings. 53% of the respondents said they believed sustainability efforts were boosting income (rather than the fast-fading view that sustainability is a drain on revenue). Even more, 67%, said that sustainability efforts at their companies were providing significant or noticeable cost savings for the company.

Sustainability is being recognized as a vital aspect of strategic planning:

  • Sustainability is becoming more important to business strategy. 89% of respondents said that sustainability is becoming an increasingly important part of their business strategy.

Opportunities lie ahead (there’s still work to be done):

The report noted that while 71% see the value of sustainability, few are actually leveraging the full potential of sustainability practices:

  • Companies are not grasping the opportunities. Only 20% of respondents felt their company is fully taking advantage of the potential of sustainability, and
  • Sustainability still is not being integrated. Only 42% said that sustainability is integrated tightly into their business strategy.

The report concludes by noting that with “tighter integration and greater leveraging of sustainability, the proportion of companies seeing business benefits can only go up.”

Why is the particular report so significant?

The State of Sustainability 2015 report provides strong indications that sustainability is going to have an increasingly important role in how businesses think, plan and operate. It reveals that businesses are increasingly approaching sustainability as a business imperative, not just window dressing for the latest corporate fad.  Most of all, the Report furnishes evidence that sustainability is no longer viewed as disconnected from a company’s core goals.

In hindsight, we might be able to mark 2015 as the year that businesses debunked the myth that pursuing sustainability is a drain on profits, and began to understand, appreciate, and pursue its opportunities.

The full report can be downloaded here.