Sustainability is the business challenge of our lifetimes.

Customers are increasingly educated and demand products and services that minimize negative environmental impact. Investors are integrating climate risk in their portfolio strategies. Government regulation is on the rise around the world, affecting carbon emissions, waste management, product design, and producer responsibility. Employees are increasingly vocal about their employer’s environmental policies and actions, making it challenging for businesses to recruit top talent without a genuine environmental vision and track record.

Based on Accenture research*, enterprises with high ratings for environmental and social governance (ESG) performance attained operating margins nearly four-times higher than those with low ESG ratings and generated annual total returns to shareholders that were double their peers. According Accenture and United Nations (UN) Global Compact research, 54% of CEOs agree sustainability is critical to the future success of their organizations, and 71% of investors believe the pandemic will accentuate global policies to tackle risks related to climate change.

From Periphery to Core

Enterprises must show accountability through ESG performance and manage end-to-end operations responsibly. By reimagining its business model, any company can operate in an intelligent way, minimize negative environmental impact, and unleash a new dimension of enterprise resource planning (ERP). Decision-makers can use this intelligence to design better products, create engaging experiences, and equip employees to do their best work by eliminating busywork. They can create an efficient, ethical, and adaptable supply chain, reaching beyond organizations and first-tier suppliers to proactively manage performance and risks with trading partners around the world.

Just like any other core business function, sustainability performance must also be managed in real time and integrated into wider business decision making. True, integrated reporting will go hand-in-hand with ESG management, and information transparency will provide a solid foundation to optimize financial results and sustainability performance together.

Most companies have a long way to go before they move beyond the basics of simply reporting ESG performance to actively steering their business operations toward ambitious sustainability goals. While the UN Global Compact’s SDG Ambition program has challenged companies to enhance their commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), only 25% have set goals aligned to societal or environmental needs. Although CEOs acknowledge the universal call-to-action to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all, less than 50% have implemented sustainability into their operations.

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