US consumers and Fortune 1000 executives remain doubtful there is widespread commitment to “going green” among corporate America, according to the second annual Gibbs & Soell Sense & Sustainability Study released today. However, executives express confidence in their own employer’s green business initiatives while remaining skeptical about the broader commitment of other companies to sustainable practices, products or services.
The study was conducted online in February 2011 by Harris Interactive.
The survey found that executives are aware of their own company’s green efforts, but join the general public in ongoing skepticism of corporate America’s commitment to sustainability. The majority (88 percent) of business leaders report their company is “going green.” However, only 29 percent of executives and 17 percent of consumers believe that a majority of businesses (“most,” “almost all,” or “all”) are committed to “going green,” defined as “improving the health of the environment by implementing more sustainable business practices, and/or offering environmentally-friendly products or services.”
Sales, social responsibility, and influence from management and shareholders are seen by executives as the chief drivers of their company’s green efforts. Business leaders identify customer demand (42 percent), the desire to help reduce or reverse global climate change (34 percent), and directives from management and investors (31 percent) as the top reasons for their company “going green.”
Financial inefficiency, market reluctance and unclear measurement continue to be challenges to going green, but there are hints that these are lessening. Executives cite insufficient return on investment (70 percent), down from 78 percent in 2010; consumers’ unwillingness to pay a premium for green products or services (66 percent), down from 71 percent in 2010; and, difficulty in evaluating sustainability across a product life cycle (44 percent), down from 45 percent in 2010, as the top barriers to more businesses “going green” in 2011. Though the only statistically significant change between 2010 and 2011 is the 8 percentage point decrease in the proportion of executives citing ROI as a barrier, these year-over-year differences suggest a downward movement that will be verified through future research.
There is an emphasis on creating an organizational structure to meet sustainability goals, but efforts continue to coexist with other business responsibilities. Three-quarters of executives (75 percent) indicate their company has people responsible for sustainability or “going green” initiatives, up from 69 percent in 2010. Nearly one out of five (17 percent) report there is a team of individuals whose jobs are specifically and solely dedicated to sustainability, up from 13 percent in 2010.
These year-over-year changes, though not statistically significant, suggest a possible upward trend that will be verified with future surveys. More than one out of ten (11 percent) note there is a C-suite or senior level function specifically and solely dedicated to “going green” initiatives. The majority of executives (55 percent) report that teams of individuals (37 percent) and C-suite or other senior level positions (19 percent) work on “green” responsibilities in addition to their primary job descriptions.