Climate change a key issue for executives, new report finds

Global C-level business leaders view climate change as a top priority for their organisations amid global uncertainty, new research reveals.

Global C-level business leaders (or CxOs) view climate change as a top priority for their organisations amid global uncertainty, a new report by Deloitte has found.

According to Deloitte’s 2023 CxO Sustainability Report: Accelerating the Green Transition, when asked to rank the issues most pressing to their organisations, many CxOs rated climate change as a “top three issue,” ahead of seven others, including innovation, competition for talent, and supply chain challenges.

In fact, only economic outlook ranked slightly higher. Moreover, 75 per cent of CxOs said their organisations have increased their sustainability investments over the past year, nearly 20 per cent of whom said they’ve increased investments “significantly.”

Deloitte built upon past research by surveying more than 2000 CxOs across 24 countries to gauge concerns and actions from business leaders on climate change and sustainability.

The report also identifies key recommendations for organisations to help close the gap between ambition and impact in order to accelerate progress to a low-carbon economy.

“If there was any doubt that climate change is an enduring part of the business agenda, the increased focus on sustainability by leaders over the past year should put it to rest. In a year of continued uncertainty, disruption, and competing business challenges, leaders ranked climate change as a top issue,” says Deloitte Global CEO, Joe Ucuzoglu.

“The path to a more sustainable future will take time, it will require businesses investment, and it will be driven by new and innovative technologies, and creative approaches. It is promising to see that C-suite leaders are making sustainability a priority and increasing their investments to help lead the way.”

Optimism endures despite heightened concern around climate impact

Almost every CxO surveyed said their organisation has felt the impacts of climate change over the past year.

CxOs reported “resource scarcity/cost of resources” as the top issue already impacting their companies (46 per cent), while 45 per cent highlighted “changing consumption patterns or preferences related to climate change” and 43 per cent reported “regulation of emissions” as other top issues impacting their companies.

Additionally, around a third of executives said climate change is negatively affecting their employees’ physical (37 per cent) and mental (32 per cent) health.

In addition to the impact on their businesses and stakeholders, 82 per cent of executives said they have been personally impacted by climate events over the past year, with extreme heat the most frequently cited issue, and 62 per cent said they feel concerned or worried about climate change all or most of the time.

Despite these concerns, 78 per cent of leaders are “somewhat” or “extremely” optimistic the world will take sufficient steps to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and 84 per cent agreed/strongly agreed that global economic growth can be achieved while also reaching climate change goals.

“Our survey tells us that CxOs believe that both their organisations and the global economy can continue to grow while reaching climate goals and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Jennifer Steinmann, Deloitte global sustainability and climate practice leader.

“Leaders should also harness their optimism to drive sustained, measurable impact, which will require ramping up climate adaptation efforts while also facilitating innovation that ensures a just transition for all stakeholders.”

Meeting increased stakeholder demands

Deloitte’s survey finds that organisations are feeling broad pressure to act on climate change from across their stakeholder groups.

Sixty-eight percent of CxOs said they feel a large-to-moderate degree of pressure from each of the following groups: board members and management, regulators and government, and consumers and clients.

Organisations are also feeling pressure from their shareholders and investors (66 per cent), employees (64 per cent), and civil society (64 per cent).

Employee activism is specifically driving increased action, with more than half of CxOs saying employee pressure on climate matters led their organisations to increase sustainability actions over the last year; 24 per cent said employee activism led to a “significant” increase.

In line with last year’s report, CxOs chose brand recognition and reputation, customer satisfaction, and employee morale and well-being as three of the four top benefits of their companies’ sustainability efforts, suggesting many CxOs see climate actions as a way to strengthen stakeholder relationships.

The lowest-ranked benefits (all financial) suggest CxOs continue to struggle to define the longer-term financial opportunities that sustainability measures offer.

Climate action continues, but challenges remain

Organisations are taking action: 59 per ecnt are using more sustainable materials, 59 per cent are increasing the efficiency of energy use, 50 per cent are training employees on climate change, and 49 per cent are developing new climate-friendly products or services.

They are also ramping up climate adaptation efforts: 43 per cent are updating or relocating facilities to make them more climate change resistant; 40% are purchasing insurance coverage against extreme weather risks; and 36 per cent are offering financial assistance to employees who have been impacted by extreme weather.

However, as seen last year, companies are less likely to implement actions that demonstrate they have embedded climate considerations into their cultures and have the senior leader buy-in and influence to effect meaningful transformation.

For example, 21 per cent of CxOs indicated their organisations have no plans to tie senior leader compensation to environmental sustainability performance, and 30 per cent said they have no plans to lobby government for climate initiatives.

Additionally, when asked how serious certain groups are about addressing climate change, only 29 per cent of CxOs said they believe the private sector is “very” serious.

Nearly a quarter of CxOs said the difficulty of measuring their organisations’ environmental impact was a top barrier to increased action, and nearly one-fifth cited cost and focus on near-term issues as barriers.

And while many organisations are concerned about a “just transition”—which seeks to ensure the substantial benefits of transitioning to a low-carbon economy are shared widely and support those who stand to lose economically—prioritisation of this issue varies considerably by region and country.

The Asia Pacific region is especially focused on a just transition, while some European countries and the US are less likely to see this issue as a priority.

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