Sustainability must be a critical strand of business strategy, motivating the transformation of operations and business models, and ensuring all opportunities are evaluated through a sustainability lens. We set out the key areas of action that leaders should focus on to accelerate their sustainability journey.

01. Lay the Foundations: Embed sustainability into leadership capability and culture

Making progress on sustainability is in large part a matter of leadership capability and culture. To drive sustained action, organizations must build a robust talent management framework that embeds sustainability into how leadership talent and reward decisions are made as well as how the leadership team operates.

Selection and Succession



Disruptive Talent Investments

Team Effectiveness

Ensure boards and CEOs apply sustainable leadership potential and track records as key criteria when selecting leaders.

Integrate sustainability into the objectives, incentives, and remuneration of CEOs and other executives. 

Make sustainable mindset and leadership attributes a core focus of leadership development and crucible experiences. 

Make long-term disruptive investments in talent and leadership. This may require creating new positions or investing in new tools. 

Invest in understanding the expectations, priorities and personalities of your leadership team to harness their collective capabilities in service of sustainability.


02. Set the Plan: Connect sustainability priorities to the core

Who is on your board matters. Having board members with experience of driving sustainability-related transformations is hugely valuable. Not all board members need to be experts in the space, but a diversity of perspectives across the group that is relevant to the sustainability issues at hand, is a must.


Connect to the core

Drive for value creation

Engage the board

Get specific

Orient your sustainability strategy around your company’s core business and areas of current or future competitive advantage.

Begin with impact reduction but strive for goals that create added value both commercially and environmentally or socially by offering new solutions for entrenched problems.

Ensure the board has an active stake in setting priorities and a clear role in achieving them.

Translate enterprise-wide sustainability goals into concrete actions and measurable objectives that leaders and employees alike can feel in their day-to-day work


03. Enable the Change: Communicate and build employee engagement

The sustainable mindset: purpose-driven belief that business is not a commercial activity divorced from the wider societal and environmental context in which it operates. Culture analytics are crucial: Traditional engagement and culture survey methodologies often produce flawed results which are overly positive and unable to reveal substantive, high-impact issues. New and more sophisticated culture analytics are able to reveal beliefs, experiences, and behaviors at a much sharper level of contrast. To drive a sustainable transformation, this level of clarity is crucial for leaders.

Measure culture and engagement

Center on your people

Tap into employees for innovation

Engage employees strategically

Go beyond typical engagement surveys and use advanced culture analytics tools to get a deep scan of how connected employees really are to the organization’s purpose and whether the right behaviors are manifesting in the organization.

Make “people” central to communications and engagement strategies; consider bottom-up not top-down approaches to mobilizing employees.

Ensure you are leveraging the diversity of perspectives and solutions that employees of all backgrounds, and across the networks, can provide.

Achieving strategic goals (sustainable or otherwise) is significantly harder without an engaged workforce. Pay particular attention to issues of diversity, equity and fairness – and don’t fall into the trap of managing perception; instead, identify and tackle the root causes.

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.


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.