Sustainability “harvesters” reap the greatest profits from sustainability efforts, according to research conducted by MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group.  The new report shows generally an overwhelming presence of sustainability on corporate agendas, but more significantly, it identifies the type of sustainability adopters – the harvesters – that are profiting the most from their efforts.

The study, based on a survey of over 4,000 managers from 113 countries, found that:

  • 70% of companies have sustainability on their agendas permanently
  • Two thirds responded that sustainability is essential to stay competitive, up from 55% in 2010
  • One third responded that sustainability is contributing to their profitability (this group is referred to as “harvesters”)
  • Despite hard economic times, sustainability efforts are increasing and the adoption of agendas has been growing at an exponential rate
  • Sustainable transformation in the corporate arena is often seen as disruptive (in a good way) and structural, rather than incremental

So, what is a “harvester” and how can your organization become one? The key is to go beyond individual projects and initiatives such as carbon reduction and clean technology investments and incorporate sustainability practices into business models, strategy, and operational structure. This may sound easier said than done, but the research suggests that is by far well worth it. The drivers for business model transformation include: consumer preference and increased market share; demand for transparency (especially from investors); and growing understanding of the connections between sustainability and innovation.

Here are some of the characteristics that “harvesters” are more likely to have:

  • CEO commitment;
  • A separate sustainability reporting process;
  • Persons responsible for sustainability in each business unit;
  • A Chief Sustainability Officer;
  • Operational and personal key performance indicators linked to sustainability;
  • Financial incentives linked to sustainability; and
  • New operational structures and modes of internal communication.

Click here to access the full report.