NEW STUDY – What’s driving business leaders towards sustainability?

4 October 2016

A new survey from The University of Auckland provides new insights into the forces driving New Zealand business leaders towards greater ambition on sustainability.

The University of Auckland Business School has surveyed business leaders about their attitudes to sustainable business initiatives. The findings will inform all those looking to drive the changes we need.

We’ve analysed the results of some of the questions for you:

“What are the major areas of focus for your organisation’s work on sustainability?”

The most highly prioritised area right now is internal systems and processes, followed by waste minimisation. Marketing and branding languishes down in 8th place. This suggests businesses are busy getting their own house in order, rather than attempting to establish new sustainability-based brand positions.

This same question underlined today’s challenges for charities looking for a donation dollar from NZ business. Philanthropy rated lowest of all potential sustainability priorities. This suggests donations are unlikely unless charitable support can be well integrated with businesses’ own sustainability goals. 

Interestingly, business leaders forecast a significant shift in emphasis in the next three years.

Overall they believe product/service design and development will take top priority before 2020, as companies vie to continue to provide what consumers want.

There are also indications that they anticipate this happening within the context of action on climate change and environmental degradation, as this takes up the second spot.

Finally, they foresee a marked increase in the need to emphasise employee engagement and diversity. This may be an acknowledgement of the need to keep everybody on board during a time of rapid change, and to compete successfully in an increasingly ethics-drive labour market.

Rachel Brown, CEO of the Sustainable Business Network says: “This tallies with what we are seeing on the ground in our dealings with business. People know big change is coming, and are manoeuvring to prepare for it. At the same time a really smart millennial generation of workers is coming through. They are increasingly making career choices based on doing something they are convinced is meaningful and worthwhile.”

“What is driving your sustainable business initiatives?”

The number one driver of action is future market opportunities. This is followed by CEO or board leadership and customer/client demand. Languishing at the bottom of the drivers is investor pressure and regulatory change.

“In times of massive disruption potential it’s great to see that these businesses view sustainability as an opportunity rather than a regulatory requirement, and that business leaders are driving change,” says Rachel.

“We’re increasingly seeing New Zealand businesses awakening to the opportunities presented by sustainability. Market demand will continue to be a driver, as research shows that most millennials will choose sustainable products and services, even if it costs them more.

“It’s interesting to see that regulation isn’t a driver of action. Businesses are taking it upon themselves to act, as they know times are changing and can see the value it will bring them – if they get it right.”

“What are the major sustainability challenges that your organisation faces?”

Lack of incentives and regulatory barriers are seen as the biggest stumbling blocks stopping businesses from becoming more sustainable.

Conversely, resistance from senior management, understanding good practice and recruiting skilled staff are seen as smallest challenges.

“Clearly, people’s attitudes and skillsets are not seen as a barrier to change, which is encouraging to see,” says Rachel. “But it appears that companies view the lack of regulation as a challenge, and it would be good to see how local and national governments can help create the right mix of incentives and a positive business environment to allow New Zealand to respond to change.”

View the full survey here.