Global Sustainability Agenda #20: Closing the Sustainable Value Creation Gap

Global Sustainability Agenda 20 Closing the Sustainable Value Creation Gap

Global Sustainability Reality

Extreme weather is worsening our food supply (Euro News)

Governments’ climate policies tackling deforestation and nature double in 12 months, study finds (Euro News)

Scientists divided over whether record heat is acceleration of climate crisis (The Guardian)

Climate change: The ‘insane’ plan to save the Arctic’s sea-ice (BBC)

Climate change’s widespread health impacts (EHN)

Climate change is spurring a longer spring — with consequences (Axios)

One planet, two realities: Realizing energy transition in the Global South (S&P Global)

Global Sustainability Business Impact

EU States Strike Compromise Deal to Pass ESG Due Diligence Law (Bloomberg Law)

G7 consensus reached on advancing AI for sustainable development (UNDP)

3 big ways the new SEC rule will change ESG reporting (Green Biz)

Why are businesses struggling to verify their science-based net-zero targets? (Edie)

The Zombies of the U.S. Tax Code: Why Fossil Fuels Subsidies Seem Impossible to Kill (NY Times)

The EU Is Setting The ‘Gold Standard’ For Carbon Removal Certification (Carbon Herald)

Eco-Friendly Logistics: Strategies for Sustainable Shipping Operations (Global Trade Mag)

The path forward

The question of whether organizations’ sustainability strategies are primarily about storytelling or genuine value creation is complex.

Although sustainability, finance, and technology professionals recognize the significant potential value in sustainability initiatives, only about half of them believe that senior management shares this perspective, resulting in limited capital allocation towards such efforts.

Reputation emerges as the primary area where leaders perceive sustainability to create value, signaling a need for better integration of sustainability into operations to realize tangible benefits. Achieving this integration requires a concerted effort to embed sustainability into the core of the business, with particular emphasis on finance and technology, which are deemed pivotal.

Moreover, companies must be willing to make substantial capital investments to infuse sustainability into key functions such as research and development (R&D) and innovation. However, challenges persist, including a lack of quality data necessary to meet emerging reporting standards (such as ISSB and CSRD) and the need for strategic discussions and capital allocation decisions to prioritize sustainability consistently.

The gaps between the sustainability commitments of corporations and their actual operational practices can be multifaceted and may include the following:

Resource Constraints: Corporations may face resource constraints that hinder the implementation of sustainability initiatives. This could include budget limitations, competing priorities, or a lack of expertise or personnel dedicated to sustainability efforts, leading to a gap between what is committed and what is feasible within the operational context.

The gap between the perceived importance of sustainability and actual capital allocation underscores the challenge of translating intent into action within organizations. Despite a growing acknowledgment of sustainability’s commercial significance, there remains a disconnect between values and behaviors among senior leaders. Bridging this gap demands a more concerted effort to align sustainability objectives with practical business imperatives, such as enhancing brand reputation, reducing costs, and managing risks effectively. While efforts to gather data are commendable, their effectiveness hinges on their integration into strategic decision-making processes and operational practices.

Inadequate Governance and Oversight: Weak governance structures and oversight mechanisms can contribute to the gap between commitments and practices. Without clear accountability mechanisms and oversight from senior management or dedicated sustainability teams, there may be a lack of alignment between stated commitments and actual implementation efforts.

Culture and Organizational Behavior: Misalignment between organizational culture and sustainability values can also contribute to gaps between commitments and practices. If sustainability is not embedded in the corporate culture or if there is resistance to change among employees, it can hinder the implementation of sustainable practices at the operational level.

Furthermore, the implementation gap highlights a tendency to prioritize reputational aspects of sustainability over operational considerations. While initiatives aimed at enhancing brand perception and stakeholder relationships are valuable, they must be complemented by efforts to drive tangible business outcomes, such as increased sales and cost reductions.

Lack of Integration: One common gap is the failure to integrate sustainability considerations into core business operations. While corporations may have lofty sustainability goals and commitments, these may not be effectively translated into day-to-day decision-making processes, resulting in limited implementation of sustainable practices.

Collaboration between sustainability, finance, and technology functions is essential to ensure a coherent approach to sustainability integration across the organization. However, current levels of collaboration fall short of optimal, indicating a need for greater alignment and mutual understanding among these key stakeholders.

Measurement and Reporting: Effective measurement and reporting systems are essential for tracking progress toward sustainability goals. However, gaps may arise if corporations lack robust data collection mechanisms, standardized metrics, or transparent reporting practices, making it challenging to assess the actual impact of sustainability commitments on operational practices.

Addressing the data gap is crucial for unlocking the full value of sustainability initiatives. Despite widespread recognition of the importance of high-quality sustainability data, many organizations struggle to access such data effectively. Increased funding for data collection and management solutions is a positive step, but efforts must focus on leveraging this data to inform strategic decision-making and drive meaningful action.

Supply Chain Challenges: Sustainability commitments often extend beyond a corporation’s own operations to include its supply chain. However, complexities within the supply chain, such as limited transparency, compliance issues, and difficulty in enforcing sustainability standards among suppliers, can create gaps between commitments and actual practices.

The use of digital technologies is crucial in alleviating the supply chain challenges. It enables supply chain partners to trace logistics processes, improve/precise product development, enhance customer service, increase production efficiency, create more precisely forecasts, optimize resource allocation, improve supplier relationship management, reduce waste generation, optimize resource allocation, transform products at the end of their life cycle, enhance traceability, reduce transaction costs, track and minimize carbon footprint, extend the life of products, among others.

Ultimately, closing the gap between intent and action requires a multifaceted approach encompassing greater collaboration, improved data utilization, and alignment with broader business objectives.

While there may be cases where sustainability strategies are more about storytelling than actual value creation, there is a growing recognition among organizations that genuine sustainability efforts can lead to both business success and positive societal impact. The key lies in discerning the intentions and actions behind a company’s sustainability narrative.

Beatriz Canamary

Beatriz Canamary is a consultant in Sustainable and Resilient Business, Doctor and Professor in Business, Civil Engineer, specialized in Mergers and Acquisitions from the Harvard Business School, and mom of triplets. Today she is dedicated to the effective application of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in Multinationals.

She is an ESG enthusiast and makes it possible to carry out sustainable projects, such as energy transition and net-zero carbon emissions. She has +15 years of expertise in large infrastructure projects.

Member of the World Economic Forum, Academy of International Business and Academy of Economics and Finance.