New Global Survey Reveals Executives' Challenges in Measuring Sustainability Impact

Harris Poll Thought Leadership & Trends Practice

Executives around the world are working to optimize businesses' operations for a more sustainable world, yet are finding their efforts difficult to measure. In a new global survey of 1,491 executives across 16 countries, conducted by The Harris Poll Thought Leadership Practice for Google Cloud, business leaders strongly agreed that their companies should be investing in sustainability efforts to impact climate change and help their companies grow, yet found real challenges in authentically measuring and achieving sustainable impact. To read the highlights, check out Google Cloud's infographic and for the comprehensive findings, Google Cloud's white paper

Executives say the sustainability effort is real, but the measurement is falling behind. Eight in 10 executives give their organization an above-average rating for their environmental sustainability effort. Eighty-six percent (86%) believe their efforts are making a difference in advancing sustainability. However, only 36% of respondents said that their organizations have measurement tools in place to quantify their sustainability efforts, and just 17% are using those measurements to optimize based on results. 

Over half (58%) of executives say their organization is guilty of greenwashing — conveying a false impression or giving misleading information that says a company's products or practices are more environmentally friendly than they actually are. Overall, 66% questioned how genuine some of their organization's sustainability initiatives are.

"It's clear that a majority of executives understand the importance of sustainability, yet the path of achieving sustainability is challenging as they are lacking the tools to meaningfully monitor and optimize their efforts. We are optimistic that technology can help bridge and bring clarity to sustainability efforts in the future," said Abbey Lunney, Managing Director of the Thought Leadership Practice at The Harris Poll.

"At Google Cloud, we're committed to helping our customers use technology to achieve their sustainability goals and re-invent themselves for a net-zero world. It will be imperative for companies to have better visibility into their impacts across the value chain so they can make more informed, business-critical decisions when it comes to climate action. There is no question tackling climate change is going to drive company-wide transformation and ultimately pivot entire industries," said Justin Keeble, Managing Director of Global Sustainability at Google Cloud.

Key findings from this year's report include:

  • Sustainability tops business priorities: Environmental, social, and governance initiatives came out as a top organizational priority, on par with evolving or adjusting business models, with close to 10% of a company's budget going to sustainability efforts. Seventy-four percent of executives further agree that sustainability can drive powerful business transformations. At face value, 80% of executives give their organization an above-average rating for their environmental sustainability effort. Eighty-six percent (86%) believe their efforts are making a difference in advancing sustainability.
     
  • Leadership supports sustainability efforts: Leadership towards sustainability starts at the top of the organizational chart. When asked which groups are enabling organizational sustainability, 53% pointed to board members and senior leaders. But they yearn for more: Eighty-two percent (82%) agreed with the statement, "I wish our board or senior leadership gave us more room to prioritize sustainability." 
     
  • Challenges with transparency persist: Over half (58%) of executives say their organization is guilty of greenwashing — conveying a false impression or giving misleading information that says a company's products or practices are more environmentally friendly than they actually are. Overall, 66% questioned how genuine some of their organization's sustainability initiatives are, and 65% agreed that they want to advance sustainability efforts but don't know how to actually do it.
     
  • Executives want more measurement around sustainability efforts: Despite having programs in place to advance sustainability initiatives, executives don't necessarily know if they're overstating their efforts or how to benchmark them. Only 36% of respondents said that their organizations have measurement tools in place to quantify their sustainability efforts, and just 17% are using those measurements to optimize based on results. Consequently, communicating authentically when implementing sustainability programs can be a challenge. 
     
  • Technology is key to advancing sustainability efforts: Technology innovation is the top utility executives believe will impact the sustainable growth of their organization and the sustainability of the planet at large, with 91% of respondents agreeing that "technology makes it possible for our organization to be more sustainable." Technology (62%) and sustainability (55%) are the top two areas where executives plan to increase investment in 2022. About three in four (78%) executives cite technology as critical for their future sustainability efforts, attesting that it helps transform operations, socialize their initiatives more broadly, and measure and report on the impact of their efforts. Conversely, the lack of investment in the right technology was the top barrier to achieving true sustainability.

About the Survey

This study was conducted from Dec. 21, 2021, to Jan. 8, 2022. All respondents worked at the C-Suite or VP level. All respondents work in one of the following industries: Financial Services; Retail/CPG; Healthcare and Life Sciences; Manufacturing and Heavy Industry; Technology, Telecommunication, Media, Entertainment, or Gaming; and Supply Chain and Logistics. A global post weight was applied to ensure equal weight of each country in the global total. 

About Harris Poll Thought Leadership and Futures Practice

Building on 50+ years of experience pulsing societal opinion, we design research that is credible, creative, and culturally relevant. Our practice drives thought leadership and unearths trends for today's biggest brands. We are focused on helping our clients get ahead of what's next.

For further information, please contact: abbey.lunney@harrispoll.com

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Source: The Harris Poll Thought Leadership & Trends Practice

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