Sustainability Doesn't Sell ... Or Does It?

Chris Mines
Let me start off this post on a downbeat note: Improving sustainability is not a high priority for companies, according to data from the recent Forrester survey of business decision-makers. The survey, part of Forrester's Forrsights research, was fielded to 2,600 executives with budget authority at companies in Europe, North America, and Asia during the fourth quarter of 2010.

When we asked these corporate decision-makers about their company's top business priorities, revenue growth was #1, customer retention #2, and cost-cutting #3 (see Figure 1 below). Improving the corporate sustainability posture? Oops, it's down at #10, with just 10% of respondents indicating that sustainability is one of their firm's high priorities for 2011. When we cut those numbers by industry grouping, utilities/telecoms and public sector/healthcare are highest, with 15% prioritizing sustainability, compared with a low of just 7% in financial services.

Now, I'd like to contrast that eye-opening data with a much more optimistic set of figures from our recent research about the growth of sustainability consulting services. My colleague Daniel Krauss and I have worked with many of the large consultancies over the past few years and seen their sustainability practices grow from practically nothing to very substantial businesses.

Among 21 consulting firms that we surveyed late last year, 17 have a dedicated sustainability practice, and five of those count more than 1,000 practitioners (see Figure 2).

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