How to ensure sustainability remains a priority for businesses after the pandemic

Take a closer look at the job descriptions of corporate bosses, and know what motivates them, says Stephen Langton of management consulting firm Russell Reynolds Associates.

Eco-Business | November 4, 2020


The Eco-Business article, “How to ensure sustainability remains a priority for businesses after the pandemic,” features APCO's interview with our consultant Stephen Langton​ on the job descriptions of corporate bosses, and knowing what motivates them. The article is excerpted below.

Sustainability is fast becoming a boardroom priority but there is still a “rhetoric gap” between what corporate leaders say, and the actions that they take.

To ensure sustainability isn’t forgotten as businesses emerge from Covid-19’s economic fallout, it is important to bridge this gap, said Stephen Langton, management consulting firm Russell Reynolds Associates’ board consultant, Asia Pacific leader and chief executive of its Advisory Partners team.

A recent study of corporate bosses by Russell Reynolds found that just under half of them are taking action to integrate sustainability into their businesses, although nearly double the proportion believe it is critical to their success and survival. Consisting of interviews conducted this year with 55 chief executives and board members who have a track record of integrating sustainability into business strategies, the study was part of Russell Reynolds’ work with the United Nations (UN) Global Compact. The latter is an initiative for businesses to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies.

In an interview with global communications firm APCO Worldwide, Langton sheds light on why companies are becoming more sustainable, and what motivates sustainability leaders in Asia.

We need to change the job descriptions of corporate leaders… it’s important to hold people accountable and incorporate sustainability in their key performance indicators.

How has Covid-19 affected companies’ goals?

It would be easy to presume that in the Covid-19 era, sustainability goals would take a backseat. We have found the opposite to be true.

With more understanding from stakeholders on Covid-19’s impact on profitability and revenue, we have found companies starting to bring in other agendas, and sustainability is clearly a priority. They are prioritizing sustainability for commercial reasons, not as an apology for climate change anymore.

Have corporate leaders’ attitudes towards sustainability changed?

Through our work with the UN Global Compact and business leaders, we found that, to some extent in the past, some felt it was a trade-off, that you had to choose between profitable growth and being truly sustainable. Many business leaders believed that you couldn’t have both.

But things have changed. The new era of boards and CEOs recognize​ that in order to be commercially successful, they would have to be sustainable too. Tomorrow’s customers, employees, shareholders and investors will not support them unless they are sustainable.

This has now become a strategy for commercial success—we see that shift happening across the world.

To read the full article, click here.

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How to ensure sustainability remains a priority for businesses after the pandemic