Seven in 10 CEOs would take action on global sustainability challenges

Seven out of ten CEOs in a global PwC business poll say they would take more ambitious action on issues related to the Millennium Development Goals including issues of energy, water and sustainable development if progress is made at Rio+20.

Just under half have made pledges so far. With less than a month to go to the landmark Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, PwC examined global threats and challenges to business in driving sustainable development including water, food security, resource scarcity, climate change, equality and social inclusion and affordable energy.

PwC polled 141 CEOs of companies with revenues between $10m – $10bn +, during April and May 2012. CEO ranking of how important or unimportant the following issues are likely to be for their business now, and in ten years time.

The poll reflects that as issues of energy affordability, water scarcity and climate change move to become strategic business concerns, the gap between sustained and sustainable development could be closed. CEOs identified affordable energy, equality and social inclusion, sustainable consumption and resource scarcity as the top three concerns related to sustainable development in 2012.

Significantly, across all the issues identified, CEO concerns are intensifying with climate change and food security amongst issues increasing in concern by 2022.

87 per cent of CEO respondents say affordable energy is important to their business, increasing to 89 per cent by 2022. The proportion of these for whom it is very important increases significantly, from 39 per cent in 2012 to 60 per cent in 2022.

Concern is increasing about the role issues of water scarcity (up 13 per cent to 78 per cent by 2022) and climate change (up 10 per cent to 78 per cent by 2022) will play in their business.

Malcolm Preston, global lead, sustainability and climate change, PwC said: “Global threats and challenges of sustainability are now clearly on the radar screen for multinational companies. Affordable energy, resource scarcity, water stress and climate change are all expected to become bigger, more pressing issues for corporate strategy within the next ten years, and that is a shorter window than the time frame for most major investments.”

“There’s a perception that there is a lack of understanding in the corporate sector about Sustainable Development, yet the issues of water, energy, resource scarcity are very real issues.

The business jury is out on what progress will be made at the conference. Just half of those polled expect any progress across the issues being discussed.

Four out of five said private sector pledges such as emissions reductions targets, or national / regional regulation, or taxation would be far more effective in driving action in the private sector.

Global goals and targets (including the MDGs) (30 per cent not effective at all), and regulations/treaties like the Kyoto Protocol (25 per cent) were seen as ineffective by over a quarter of CEOs.

Malcolm Preston, global lead, sustainability and climate change, PwC said: “The Rio + 20 summit can shape the vision and drive the ambition. But business has more confidence in ‘bottom up’ driven actions than it has in ‘top down’. Over 90 per cent of CEOs signalled that regional or national regulation and fiscal measures, along with private sector investment, are the most effective mechanisms for driving investment and change.”

“There is a sense that business can and will respond on sustainability and climate change. Big business gets the strategic importance of sustainable development and consumption, and many major players are already taking action in their businesses and along their supply chain. But the private sector is looking for more ambition and more leadership from governments and policymakers.”

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