Investors Don’t Care About Sustainability

by Peter Lacy for Bloomberg Business Week, November 9th, 2010.

Yet Accenture’s recent study with the U.N. confirms that CEOs do, which is why they need to work on making investors understand the business case.

Over the past year, we have been speaking with a wide range of business leaders as part of a study, A New Era of Sustainability,that Accenture conducted in partnershipwith the UN Global Compact, sponsored by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In the course of taking the temperature of chief executive sentiment on corporate sustainability, we conducted 50 in-depth interviews with company bosses, backed up by an online survey of a further 766 CEOs from around the globe.

During almost every one of our interviews with CEOs, we hit what we began to call the 40-minute investor moment. For the first 40 minutes of each interview, we would discuss the progress their company had made in embedding sustainability into core business, the opportunities, the barriers to further integration, and some of the challenges they saw in shaping a competitive environment conducive to sustainable business. But with 20 minutes remaining—it happened so consistently we could have set our watches by it—each of the CEOs would turn to us and say, “Look: We’d like to do more on sustainability, but mainstream investors just don’t care about it.”

Their view is supported by one of the most surprising findings of our study: just 22 percent of the 766 CEOs we surveyed believe investors will be key stakeholders in driving their action on sustainability over the next five years. This figure—below consumers, governments, employees, local communities, regulators, and the media—shows the nature of the impasse and the disconnect. CEOs cite a lack of investor interest as a critical barrier to further investment, but few CEOs attempt to communicate to shareholders on sustainability as a business issue, and even fewer see investors as an important voice in shaping their activities in this area over the next five years. (continue reading… )


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