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Most Sustainability programs fail says Bain

LONDON/NEW YORK: January 24, 2017. A survey of 300 companies by Bain & Co says only two percent of corporate sustainability programs achieve or exceed their goals compared to 12 percent of other transformation programs.

In additional interviews with heads of Sustainability at Nestlé, Novozymes and Coca-Cola, Bain said it has discovered that while corporate sustainability programs are often viewed as "greenwashing", even companies with the best of intentions fall victim to a few key "change traps" that keep them from achieving their goals.

Coca ColaMore than 60 percent of survey respondents cited public reputation as the key driver for sustainability change, while employees deprioritize it because of perceived business trade-offs and an absence of incentives.

Lack of resources and competing priorities are the two top obstacles corporations said threaten to derail sustainability programs, and less than a quarter of respondents acknowledged they are held accountable for sustainability through incentives.

"Too often, sustainability gets stuck in first gear, while the need for change is accelerating," said Jenny Davis-Peccoud, head of Bain's Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility practice. "Once companies learn to navigate common roadblocks, they open the door to a transformational journey and the potential to leave a legacy, prompting companies to redefine what it means to be a leader in their industry."

Not for the first time, the survey found that corporate sustainability leaders could overcome organizational resistance and confront a prevailing mindset that sees sustainability as bad for business.

To avoid committing "millions of dollars and hundreds of hours of management time to the effort [and] then momentum fades", Bain makes four recommendations that have been used by other consultants, experts and practioners for years:

  1. Make a public commitment. Many executives hesitate to make their goals public, fearing reprisal from third-party watchdogs if they fall short.
  2. CEOs lead by example. Research shows senior leadership support is the most important factor contributing to success, and visible actions—not just words—make the difference.
  3. Highlight the business case. Sustainability leaders help employees understand the business case that links sustainable products and processes with success, and there's no shortage of proof.
  4. Hardwire change through incentives and processes. Companies that achieve ambitious Sustainability goals embed behaviors and processes throughout the business and make line managers responsible for delivering results.

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