Corporate Citizenship: Sustainability Gets Attention But...

Jan. 28, 2022
Survey points up sizable gaps between intent and action

The first of a planned annual series of surveys on corporate moves related to sustainability provides an interesting perspective. “Sustainability Survey 2021,” issued by Sphera, Chicago, looks at general issues as well as regional differences in performance.

The survey, developed in collaboration with the Esslingen University of Applied Sciences, Esslingen am Neckar, Germany, aimed to determine the state of maturity of companies’ efforts as well as to understand the metrics and measurement actions that businesses are using to assess their sustainability progress. It drew 218 responses from professionals in a diverse range of businesses, including ones from various manufacturing sectors.

Results on the maturity of corporate sustainability efforts (categorized as “compliant,” “efficient,” “optimized” or “leader”) proved eye-opening, says Sphera. Europe has been leading in sustainability policies and actions, but respondents from North America and Asia/Pacific indicated those regions now are at a similar state of maturity. Europe still topped the “efficient” and “optimized” categories; 29% and 37%, respectively, of respondents there put their companies in those categories — compared to 25% and 33%, respectively, of North America respondents, and 27% and 33%, respectively, of Asia/Pacific ones. Fewer European firms remained in the “compliant” category, though, 12% versus 17% for both North America and Asia/Pacific. This may mean European companies are moving faster due to more-advanced laws and initiatives, says Sphera. Not surprisingly, large companies ($1 billion or more in revenue) have made more progress than small- and mid-sized ones.

A majority (51%) of respondents reported a clear commitment to sustainability by their companies’ management. However, only 21% indicated their firms have a clear roadmap for implementing a sustainability strategy. This gap between vision and action isn’t surprising, notes Sphera, because many companies underestimate the complexities involved in implementation.

More than half of respondents somewhat or strongly agreed (36% and 27%, respectively) their companies involve key stakeholders in developing sustainability programs. A majority also agreed (33% somewhat and 28% strongly) their firms benchmark sustainability performance against sector leaders. A fairly similar number (29% somewhat and 38% strongly) agreed their companies communicate sustainability performance publicly; this lags the level of corporate accountability and transparency some global investors seek, Sphera points out.

On corporate greenhouse gas emissions, only 13% of respondents said their companies have identified all “Scope 3” categories (i.e., those reflecting a company’s impact on partners along its value chain) and completed corresponding hot-spot analyses. The lack of direct control and dearth of reliable industry-based data certainly contribute but companies still must attempt to surmount these challenges because, depending upon industry, Scope 3 emissions can comprise more than 70% of a firm’s overall environmental impact, stresses Sphera.

The survey also found that only 17% of respondents said their companies embed emission-reduction targets in their purchasing strategy.

More than a third (35%) of respondents agreed their organizations monitor progress toward improved sustainability performance against measurable targets. However, just 16% strongly agreed their firms have fully integrated sustainability performance management systems into their business processes. And only 18% reported their companies use dedicated software to analyze and improve performance against set targets.

Download a copy of the report.

MARK ROSENZWEIG is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief. You can email him at [email protected]
About the Author

Mark Rosenzweig | Former Editor-in-Chief

Mark Rosenzweig is Chemical Processing's former editor-in-chief. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' magazine Chemical Engineering Progress. Before that, he held a variety of roles, including European editor and managing editor, at Chemical Engineering. He has received a prestigious Neal award from American Business Media. He earned a degree in chemical engineering from The Cooper Union. His collection of typewriters now exceeds 100, and he has driven a 1964 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk for more than 40 years.

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