Divides and Dividends India

India has made good progress towards sustainable business. But its journey is far from over.


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Sustainability talks are now mainstream in corporate India, a topic for every boardroom, CEO and C-suite team. Nearly a decade after the Companies Act 2013, sustainability is no longer seen as just a compliance box to tick. More and more businesses are awakening to its potential to radically change company fortunes for the better. Sustainability is here to stay. And it will be a driving force of business success in the next decade—and beyond.

Yet transitioning an organization to a more sustainable future is not easy. Leaders are running into myriad challenges, from bureaucracy and a lack of organizational investment to short-term pressures from investors. While many are firmly committed to sustainability action—and convinced of its centrality to business strategy and long-term competitiveness—delivering tangible results can often prove elusive.

Against this backdrop, Russell Reynolds Associates set out to understand the real state of sustainability 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 the India, three key themes emerged.

  01. Macro, Micro and “Me”

In India, C-suite respondents and employees agree that the global pandemic is the biggest threat to the future of society and the top challenge affecting their workplace. Beyond this, employees are looking to leaders to help fix a host of challenges—from megatrends like climate change and gender parity to issues closer to home, such as employee health and wellbeing, fair pay and equal opportunities for advancement. Leaders must ensure their sustainability strategies bridge macro and micro concerns.

View survey results and data

  02. Brand Management Versus Value-Creation

Across the 11 markets we surveyed, C-suite leaders in India were the most confident about their sustainability activities: 57% say their organization has a sustainability strategy that has been acted upon and clearly communicated. Notably, while many organizations’ sustainability efforts are motivated by brand-management concerns, there are encouraging signs that some are awakening to the potential of sustainability to deliver lasting value for people, planet and profit.

View survey results and data

  03. Next-Generation Leaders at the Vanguard

India has a deep bench of up-and-coming leaders with significant experience managing sustainability strategy and operations: 70% of next-generation leaders have had three or more sustainability-related job responsibilities in the last two years, well ahead of the global average (40%). This is a source of strength. These future executives will ascend the C-suite with significantly more experience in driving sustainability outcomes than their global peers.

View survey results and data

Where do business leaders go from here? In many ways, India’s record on sustainability is a source of pride. Yet we know that the journey to sustainable business is far from over. As the past year has shown, considerable economic, environmental and social threats continue to divide our societies. The idea that private enterprise will become part of the solution will only become more prevalent. Employees, customers and investors have clear expectations for businesses to do much more, much faster.

Ultimately, sustainability cannot be an add-on to business strategy. It must become the business strategy. This can only be achieved with bold leadership. Executives need the vision to strike a different path, the grit to overcome obstacles and the courage to stay the course in the face of setbacks. Those who do will benefit from triple-line dividends—from faster top-line growth and more resilient supply chains to greater employee and customer loyalty.

This study aims to help you realize this significant opportunity for change. We look forward to joining you on this journey.

Vijuraj Eranazhath and Vinita Katara 
Russell Reynolds Associates



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 India, we surveyed 1,295 employees and next-generation leaders and 97 C-suite executives.



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