Brand Management Versus Value Creation

How much progress are Canada’s business leaders making towards sustainability?


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Every business is talking about sustainability today. It is a topic for every boardroom, every CEO, and every C-suite team. The first step towards translating this goodwill into action is to develop a compelling roadmap for change.

In Canada, 41% of C-suite leaders say their organization has a sustainability strategy that has been acted upon and clearly communicated—in line with the global average (43%). However, it is important to note that this view is not shared by others across the organization, with only 24% of employees and 33% of next-generation leaders saying the same. 

Existence of Sustainability Strategies

Percent indicating there is a sustainability strategy in place that has been acted upon and clearly communicated


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At the same time, there are signs that Canadian organizations are at the early stages of their sustainability journey. Just 34% of C-suite leaders say their CEO is personally committed to sustainability and that organizational progress has been made—someway behind the global average (51%). Notably, the United States is significantly more optimistic, with 69% of C-suite leaders saying their CEO is committed to the sustainability cause.

CEO Commitment to Sustainability

Percent indicating the CEO is personally committed to advancing sustainability and progress has been made

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And when asked about why their organization was taking sustainability action, 42% of C-suite leaders cited brand management concerns—they wanted to be seen as socially responsible or reputable or use sustainability for competitive differentiation. By comparison, just 14% said value creation was the driving force of their sustainability efforts. 

C-suite perceptions of the driving force behind company’s approach to sustainability?

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A brand-first approach is problematic because it is unlikely to lead to the transformation that is required to thrive in a new era of stakeholder capitalism. When leaders only see sustainability as a bolt-on to existing strategy, rather than a fundamental driver of business growth and value creation, they may not be willing to set aside the necessary resources and capital to drive deep changes to business and operational models. 

In 2022, there is a significant opportunity for leaders to challenge prevailing assumptions about the value of sustainability to their business. Those that see it is a core growth driver, rather than a threat to be managed, will make the biggest strides forward in the years ahead.

Anticipated Progress by Driving Force of Sustainability Strategy

Percent indicating great deal of or significant progress

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The fact that senior leaders are more optimistic than next-generation leaders and employees about sustainability progress is a concern. A compelling vision and expert communication will be critical to mobilizing employees and fostering an authentic enterprise-wide culture of sustainability.

Shawn Cooper
Russell Reynolds Associates



Action Items

  • Audit where your organization is in the sustainability lifecycle, with a specific focus on distinguishing between surface-level or short-term actions and deep investments in changing organizational operating procedures and business models.

  • Ensure the board and executive team sign off on a credible sustainability strategy that sets out the areas of your organization that will undergo transformation, including business and operating models, leadership frameworks and culture.

  • Determine the level of understanding of, and buy-in, for your sustainability strategy across multiple levels within the organization. Leverage areas of skepticism as opportunities to sharpen your plans.



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