Divides and Dividends Australia

Companies that move quickly on sustainability will emerge as the winners of the next decade—and beyond.


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Today’s business leaders have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help reshape our world. As social, ecological and economic fault lines continue to divide our societies, employees, consumers and investors are looking to private enterprise for answers. There is a growing expectation that companies must do more than just turn profit for shareholders; they must also be a force for public good.

Australia has much to gain from sustainability action. As one of the world’s driest continents, we are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming. The latest IPPC report made for bleak reading. Our sea levels have risen at a higher rate than the global average. The intensity, frequency and duration of fire-weather events is set to increase. And heavy rainfall and river floods will become more widespread over the next decade and beyond.

Against this backdrop, Russell Reynolds Associates set out to understand the real state of sustainability action within organizations across 11 countries. By surveying three distinct groups—C-suite executives, next-generation leaders and employees—we were able to understand what a cross section of the global workforce thinks about the maturity of their organization’s sustainability strategy and the ability of their leaders to advance the sustainability agenda.

In Australia, three key themes emerged:

  01. Brand Management Versus Value Creation

There are indications that Australian companies are still at the early stages of their understanding of sustainability and the value it can bring their organization and wider society. When asked why their organization was taking sustainability action, 45% of C-suite leaders cited brand management concerns. Far fewer said value creation set the agenda. Those that challenge outdated perceptions and see sustainability as a driver of growth, rather than a threat to manage, will make the biggest strides forward in the years ahead.

View survey results and data

  02. Say/Do Divide

There has been no shortage of organizations making promises on environmental sustainability. Yet our research showed a wide gap between what business leaders say they will do on green issues and what employees see them do. Business leaders must make sure to translate rhetoric into tangible and meaningful action on the ground or risk accusations of greenwashing.

View survey results and data

  03. Next-Generation Leaders at the Vanguard

Australia’s up-and-coming executives are driving sustainability action. In the past two years, 42% have had three or more job responsibilities to improve environmental or social outcomes, compared to 27% of C-suite leaders. However, there is also an opportunity to expose next-generation leaders to a broader range of sustainability experiences. Unless action is taken, tomorrow’s organizations could face a shortage of leaders who have the skills to compete on a global scale.

View survey results and data

There is now clear evidence that sustainability can be a source of competitive edge, the key to myriad financial and nonfinancial dividends, from higher profits to greater employee loyalty and customer satisfaction. The business case is now irrefutable. And although realizing these benefits is not easy, it can be done.

We know that organizations which are making the most progress on sustainability are headed by bold, courageous leaders who are willing to take a stand, make hard decisions and drive radical changes to business and operational models. Here, we aim to give every leader the tools they need to follow suit and confidently pivot their organization to a more sustainable future. The world is watching. Are you ready to help build a stronger, more resilient planet for all?



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 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. In Canada, we surveyed 697 employees and next-generation leaders and 94 C-suite leaders.



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