Divides and Dividends: Next-Generation Leaders at the Vanguard

Next-generation leaders have emerged as the engine room of sustainability action with increasing responsibilities covering product, processes, reporting and partnerships.

Next-generation leaders have emerged as the engine room of sustainability action.

We asked respondents whether they had had a variety of sustainability-relevant job responsibilities in the last two years covering product, processes, and reporting, and partnerships. Our research shows that 40% of next-generation leaders have taken on three or more such responsibilities in the last two years, slightly higher than the 32% of C-suite leaders who report the same. These numbers are encouragingly high.

Next-generation leaders are particularly likely to have had experience identifying new approaches to making products more sustainable (34%) and changing internal processes to improve sustainability outcomes (34%). These crucible experiences will allow next-generation leaders to build the skills they need to integrate sustainability to the core of business operations—and make real progress across people, planet, and profit.

These future executives are well-positioned to carry the sustainability mantle, overcome barriers, change culture and devise better products and services for their customers and consumers. Whether motivated by personal passions and core values, or delegated responsibilities from their C-suite line managers, these up-and-comers are driving sustainability initiatives into the fabric of the organization. Moreover, in many organizations next-generation leaders are the “connective tissue” between C-suite and employees; they can play an essential role in bridging the divides that may exist by closing communication and perception gaps.

Leading by example

Embedding sustainability in the hiring process at Chr. Hansen

Biosciences company Chr. Hansen embeds sustainability into its hiring processes by asking hiring managers to assess whether candidates "uphold ethics and values, [and] encourage organizational and individual responsibility towards the community and environment." The change in hiring practices has been instrumental in the company, generating more than 80% of revenue from products that have a direct, positive contribution to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Source: Chr. Hansen’s Contributions to the UN Global Goals


Action Items

  • Make sustainability-related responsibilities a core element of next-generation leaders’ roles and put in place measures to enable, empower and reward them for driving sustainability outcomes.

  • Hold C-suite executives and next-generation leaders accountable for sustainability outcomes across day-to-day management practices and hiring and promotion approaches, with 360-degree evaluations that measure both performance and behaviors.


About the Study

The business case for sustainability is undeniable. Leaders who bridge the divides that threaten our global societies will yield significant triple-line dividends.

In a major global survey of C-suite executives, next-gen leaders, and employees, we reveal how leaders can grasp this opportunity:

  • What are the environmental, social, and economic divides that leaders should solve?
  • How ready are leaders to advance the sustainability agenda?
  • What actions should leaders take to deliver lasting value for people, planet, and profit.

The study was conducted with 9,500 employees and next-generation leaders in 11 growth and mature markets from April 16 to May 12, 2021.


Divides and Dividends

Access an unprecedented sustainable leadership study with 9,500 respondents in 11 countries and learn what actions leaders should take to deliver lasting value for people, planet and profit.