A new study from Coca-Cola Enterprises has taken the pulse of European corporate sustainability. “Sustainability Insights: Learning from Business Leaders,” reveals that the majority of corporations are maintaining their sustainability strategies despite tough economic conditions. It also concludes that committed executive involvement is the crucial factor in successful and persistent sustainability initiatives. These findings lead to the assertion that companies that fail to preserve their sustainability strategies, allegedly due to economic conditions, may in fact be lacking sufficient leadership involvement.
Europe’s ongoing economic crisis has left many corporations facing difficult budget decisions. Numerous sustainability programs have fallen by the wayside in the face of tightening belts. The simple fact, verified by Coca-Cola’s research, is that within many corporations, sustainability programs are not viewed as essential and there is a persistent lack of confidence about the prospect of economic return. Companies are abandoning their sustainability strategies, citing the current European economic climate as cause. However, one of this study’s fundamental conclusions, that top executive involvement is the key to the success of sustainability plans, shows that internal factors play a much larger role than external influences
Coca-Cola’s researchers found that 52% of companies were able to keep their sustainability initiatives running in spite of economic austerity. They found that success was often achieved by linking management bonuses to sustainability targets, aligning business goals with environmental and social goals, and other policies that gave top executives incentives to engage with their organization’s sustainability strategies. These approaches are the main difference between companies that maintained their sustainability initiatives and those that cut funding.
It is undeniable that maintaining corporate sustainability programs is difficult, particularly during economic instability. However, this study has demonstrated that companies that do not maintain their sustainability strategies may be failing for internal, rather than external reasons. For corporate sustainability to succeed in the long-term, companies must be consistent through both economic booms and downturns. Coca-Cola’s study shows that this is possible if corporate executives are motivated to be heavily involved in their organizations sustainability aspirations.