Divides and Dividends US

Leaders today have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a better, more resilient planet for all.


All Local Insights     Global Insights


The simultaneous global crises of climate change, global pandemics, and racial and social injustices continue to wreak havoc on the business landscape. Events like these are a stark reminder of just how much work we must do to build a better, more resilient planet for all. 

Leaders today have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to become part of the solution. We now have clear evidence that sustainability action unlocks sizeable business opportunities. With this, the risks of doing nothing are significant. Organizations lacking a stated and credible commitment to sustainability will lose market share, talent and brand identity to their competitors. Revenues will fall, expenses will rise and shareholders will eventually revolt.

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 United States, four key themes emerged.

  01. Macro, Micro and “Me”

US C-suite respondents are bullish about sustainability progress. Yet when asked about the driving force behind their actions, they typically cited brand-management concerns. 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 go much further, much faster in the years ahead.

View survey results and data

  02. Brand Motivation Versus Value-Creation

Sustainability can feel like an abstract concept. To really commit, people need to be able to “touch and feel” it. Help leaders and employees understand what it really means in the context of their day-to-day jobs, the actions they take and the decisions they make.

View survey results and data

  03. Next-Generation Leaders at the Vanguard

 US next-generation leaders are poised to ascend to the C-suite with significantly more experience managing sustainability strategies than their global peers—53% have taken on three or more sustainability-related job responsibilities in the last two years, ahead of the global average (40%). Importantly, these up-and-coming executives are gaining firsthand experience on how to embed sustainability across the fabric of their organizations.

View survey results and data

  04. Leadership + Culture = Impact

Leaders are running into a host of challenges on their sustainability journeys, including organizational bureaucracy and slow-changing company cultures. Achieving authentic and lasting progress on sustainability is first and foremost a matter of leadership. Yet our study shows senior executives lack many of the skills to inspire change and galvanize action.

View survey results and data

Where do we go from here? We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different results. For the US to meet its responsibilities on sustainable business, and drive progress at the scale and pace we need, organizations must elevate sustainability to an executive responsibility. CEO and board leaders need to make sustainability a fundamental strand of business strategy and spearhead radical, enterprise-wide transformation.

Here, we reveal how to deliver this make-or-break transition. Our three-step framework offers practical advice on how to drive sustainability to the heart of your business models and operations, empower your leadership teams to work in lockstep towards your vision and create a true culture of sustainability from the top of your organization to the frontline. This is how you supercharge your potential to deliver lasting results for people, planet and profit.  

Kurt Harrison 
Sustainability Co-Head, 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.

In the United States, study was conducted with 1,162 employees and next-generation leaders and 92 C-suite leaders from April 16 to May 12, 2021.



Defining Moments Video
Reflections on Sustainable Leadership | Stephen Smith - CEO and President of L. L. Bean




Ready to get Started?

We look forward to connecting with you on sustainable leadership.