Five Sustainability Excuses Your Company Can’t Afford to Make in 2020

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5 sustainability excuses

In 2019, sustainability commitments reached an all-time high, growing not only in number but in ambition. Yet, executing on these plans is far from a core competency for most organizations. In fact, less than 25% of corporations are on pace to achieve their carbon targets.

We've now reached an inflection point – driven by a confluence of trends, milestones and announcements – proving that growth-enabling sustainability transformation is possible. Technology and innovations once only viable in ideal circumstances are now widely applicable. New financing mechanisms, tools, and cutting-edge business models now present unlocks to accelerate progress.

carbon target corporate stats

As we enter the new year, experts across ENGIE Impact weighed in on how these new opportunities can break down perceived barriers to sustainability transformation – and ultimately, how these opportunities can invalidate historical rationale for not jump-starting sustainability-driven strategies and achieving results.

Excuse #1:
Our stakeholders don’t care about ‘going green’

As reflected in the recent Business Roundtable and Davos Manifesto, companies are broadening the notion of who they deliver value to, reaching beyond shareholders to include all stakeholders, such as employees, customers, suppliers and communities. This is heavily driven by their ecosystem of stakeholders increasingly placing pressure on employers and brands to invest in sustainability.

The Rebuttal:

Employees want to work for companies with sustainable business practices
64% of Millennials, which will soon make up 75% of the workforce, say they will not take a job at a company that doesn’t have strong social responsibility practices. And 90% cite sustainability as a crucial consideration when selecting an employer.

Consumers value sustainable goods
According to Center for Sustainable Business research, 50% of the growth in consumer packaged goods came from sustainability-marketed products. 66% of global consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable goods, with 73% of Millennials willing to do the same. 31% of American consumers list sustainability in the top two attributes most helpful in building brand trust.

Emissions disclosed stats

Companies are pressuring global supply chains to decarbonize
95% of major global buyers surveyed by CDP are using environmental metrics to manage supplier relationships, or plan to within two years. As a result, significantly more suppliers are disclosing emissions this year, with nearly 6,800 suppliers responding to CDP, a 24% increase over the prior year.

Sustainable investing is on the rise
85% of investors surveyed in a recent Morgan Stanley study expressed interest in sustainability investing, a preference shared by 95% of Millennials. Sustainable investment now totals over $31T in assets, a 69% increase over the past two years. Leaders are going further, divesting entirely from corporations perpetuating harmful effects on society, such as the United Nations carbon-free pension fund.

gradient-quote Sustainability is now a business strategy. It builds trust with employees and customers, manages risk and delivers value to corporations. gradient-quote-right
Clinton Moloney, Managing Director, Sustainability Solutions–Americas, ENGIE Impact


Excuse #2:
We set goals, but struggle to get engagement

Like any transformation, sustainability initiatives are cross-functional in nature and often face tremendous organizational barriers. By focusing on the human dynamics of change, some corporations have demonstrated the ability to achieve outsized results in their transformation efforts. This is being accomplished through a few core strategies.

The Rebuttal:

Successful companies put sustainability at the core of organizational design
Sustainability goals should be connected to business strategy, embedded as a component of your culture and clearly communicated to employees. The onus for results must then be put on key executives. At IKEA, each country leader is responsible for significant P&Ls, yet also acts as the CSO of their region, driving education and engagement across the organization.

Companies are able to facilitate the behaviors of collaboration and innovation
Some businesses are building opportunities to elevate employee ideas and innovations and connect them back to a company’s overall objectives. Arming leaders with the language and tools to inspire and reward innovative, collaborative thinking uncovers new ways to meet sustainability objectives. For example, Walmart live broadcasts Sustainability Milestone Summits to highlight progress and recognize innovative suppliers and solutions.

Good governance and formal processes accelerate results
Key to successful transformation efforts are the development of dedicated cross-departmental working groups with clear charters, dedicated resources and executive sponsorship.

gradient-quote Successful companies create cultural touchstones to celebrate accomplishments and inspire innovation. They train leaders to role model mindsets of openness and deep listening to create environments where breakthrough thinking can emerge. gradient-quote-right
Tripp Borstel, Director, Sustainability Solutions, ENGIE Impact

Excuse #3:
We don’t have the funds for it this year

New financing mechanisms help companies address common financial hurdles, such as limited available capital and strict payback periods.

The Rebuttal:

The business case is stronger than it’s ever been
Declining costs of technology, growing supply of renewable power, policy incentives and the emergence of new sustainable revenue streams are changing the calculus of sustainability.

Sustainable financing options are everywhere
In 2019, total sustainable-debt issuance surpassed $1T. Following years of loosely-defined ‘green’ bonds, sustainable finance has evolved to become more prescriptive and performance-based. Sustainability-linked loans, which tie interest rates to sustainability performance, rose to $108B total issuance in just two years. Banks like DBS have earmarked funds with the specific purpose of driving innovation that positively impacts Sustainable Development Goals. And companies are focusing on high-emission areas, like Apple, which issued a $2.2B green bond to lower emissions across their supply chain and beyond.

Flexible performance-based financing mechanisms, like as-a-Service models, help companies solve for both financial and capability gaps
As-a-Service models provide access to capital-intensive technologies alongside the expertise to manage them, allowing companies to implement new, clean technologies with minimal financial and operational risk.

gradient-quote Leveraging clean technologies effectively falls outside of the core competency of businesses. New As-a-Service financing models provide opportunities for businesses with complex operations, or businesses with competing capital needs, to partner with specialists in these technologies, who can finance and guarantee performance of these capital-intensive assets. gradient-quote-right
Nicolas Lefevre-Marton, Managing Director, Sustainability Solutions, ENGIE Impact

Excuse #4:
Climate change won’t impact our near-to-midterm ability to operate and grow profitably

The long-term effects of climate change are having very real near-term impacts on business.

The Rebuttal:

The price of carbon continues to increase
In 2019, carbon prices under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme reached an 11-year high. In total, 57 carbon pricing initiatives have been scheduled for implementation, accounting for over 20% of global GHG emissions.



Climate-related extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and cost
2019 is the fifth consecutive year in which 10 or more billion-dollar weather and climate disaster events have impacted the United States. The 33 European Economic Area countries have experienced a collective loss of 13B a year since the turn of the decade. Companies are feeling the impact directly. Floods in the U.S. Midwest this spring reportedly cost Archer Daniels Midland Co. between $50 and $60 million in the first quarter of the year. Heatwaves in Nanjing, China drove decreases in worker productivity of about 3%. Automakers such as Subaru, Honda Motor, Toyota Motor and Nissan suspended car production for as long as 10 days due to a shortage of parts following Typhoon Hagibis in Japan.

Companies are taking action now
Whether it be hospitals like Bellevue Hospital, redesigning their facilities for enhanced resiliency or financial institutions building climate resilience criteria into their investment portfolios like Temasek, companies are making significant shifts in their businesses to account for the direct and indirect risks associated with climate change.

gradient-quote Extreme weather events have shown that the financial and human cost of climate change is real, imminent and compounding. Carbon mitigation strategies are more urgent than ever – and we now live in a time where we have the science, technologies and financing available to design zero-carbon energy systems that are smart, resilient and less expensive than conventional ones. gradient-quote-right
Mathias Baer, Managing Director, Sustainability Solutions, ENGIE Impact

Excuse #5:
We Can’t Access the Information and Data We Need to Make Decisions

New technology has vastly simplified the complex data landscape. The Internet of Things (IoT) makes granular data widely available in real-time. Digital portals and distributed ledgers aggregate data from dispersed suppliers to track success. Advanced analytics can now recognize complex patterns to reveal opportunities and optimize systems. The technology is here. The question will be how companies deploy it at the speed and scale required.

The Rebuttal:

Technology is increasingly available at a lower cost
The average price of an IoT sensor has dropped from $1.30 to $0.38 since 2004. By 2035 there will be 1 trillion Internet-connected devices online. As the market opportunity for sustainability grows, both traditional energy players and software providers are investing in developing, deploying and offering new tools that enable companies to scale their programs.

Innovative companies are applying new digital solutions to solve long-standing business challenges.
Walmart Canada recently launched the world’s largest blockchain application to track and optimize their supply chain. The International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines uses data visualization to help rice farmers easily select resilient rice crops. Australia’s BeefLedger uses blockchain to give Chinese customers enhanced beef traceability spanning from where the animal was raised to its health history and transport.

Advanced analytics intelligently optimize resource usage
For example, Google used artificial intelligence to optimize their data centers, reducing cooling bills by 40%, while Huawei’s IoT smart water meter application helped the city of Yingtan reduce its water leakage rate to 12%, saving 2.4 million tons of water.

gradient-quote While most companies understand how to manage their P&Ls and the data essential to run their business, sustainability data governance is new for most organizations and the data that are available are evolving rapidly. To make the best use of this data, we’ll need a strong grasp of the available data streams, we must institutionalize how we collect and digitize them, and leverage their value through the application of appropriate advanced analytics solutions. gradient-quote-right
Olivier Martin, Head of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, ENGIE Impact

The next decade is crucial to minimize the effects of climate change. There is no question that the scale of transformation needed is immense. Cities, businesses and governments around the world are already proving that old barriers are new opportunities. The businesses that can implement solutions at speed and scale will be those that capitalize on the vast opportunity ahead.

So, the question is, will 2020 be the year that your organization finally runs out of excuses?

We invite you to view our webinar, “Lessons from Leaders: Accelerating Your Sustainability Transformation.” You’ll hear from representatives from Caesars Entertainment and Staples about how they have overcome excuses and made progress to their goals.

View Webinar