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The Path to 2030

United Nations Global Compact logo

The 2016 United Nations Global Compact-Accenture Strategy CEO Study—the most recent in more than a decade of research—reveals a window of opportunity in the minds of the world’s business leaders. Since the last study in 2013, frustrated ambition has given way to optimism as CEOs see a mandate to solve societal challenges as a core element in the search for competitive advantage.

The adoption of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provides the backdrop to this year’s study. Results suggest that business leaders are committed to driving forward this universal ambition, forging a stronger global environment for doing business in the foothills of the fourth industrial revolution. The majority of CEOs surveyed (87 percent) believe the SDGs provide an opportunity to rethink approaches to sustainable value creation—and 78 percent already see opportunities to contribute through core business.

While CEOs recognize the scale of the challenge, the milestones of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement are leading to a growing acceptance of the mandate for business to play a leading role in Agenda 2030. Nearly half of all CEOs surveyed (49 percent) believe that business will be the single most important actor in delivering the SDGs.

Leading businesses are redefining competitiveness, and changing the world in the process. In an era of digital disruption and radical transparency, business leaders are grounding strategies for value creation in societal purpose. Against a backdrop of change as dramatic and uncertain as any in the last 250 years, the adoption of the SDGs gives the world a universal roadmap for development. The private sector now has a window of opportunity to reshape the way we live and work.

Find out more about the CEO Study
Kurt Bock

"We need better solutions to solve global challenges: We put this at the core of our strategy."

Kurt Bock
Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors, BASF SE

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Purpose,Value & Impact

More than a decade of research on sustainable business suggests that companies mature through common stages, with similar motivators and opportunities to create value for the company and for the world.

Consider the typical progression. Sustainability initiatives often begin as discretionary efforts, motivated by compliance pressures, or even by moral obligation. At their most mature, they are a non-negotiable part of

the organization’s DNA anchored in societal purpose. In fact, 80 percent of CEOs say that demonstrating a purpose-driven commitment to sustainability is already a differentiator in their industry.

Understanding these levels of maturity can help companies to recognize disruptive approaches, refocus strategies, innovate to solve global challenges, and leapfrog to high performance.

Sustainable Business Maturity Curve

Interactive Chart Mobile Interactive Chart Static
Risk &
Operational &
Resource Efficiency
Growth &
& Impact
Leapfrog Opportunity


Hover over each point on the maturity curve to learn the key takeaways of the different stages in achieving sustainable value.

Risk & Compliance
Arrow Up
Upside: Business is able to identify and manage critical sustainability issues
Arrow Down
Downside: Uncoordinated sustainability efforts focused on minimizing risk result in minimal value to society and limited strategic benefit for the company
Operational & Resource Efficiency
Arrow Up
Upside: Business is able to measure, track and value the impact of their sustainability activities on core business and financial metrics
Arrow Down
Downside: Sustainability becomes synonymous with efficiency, narrowing efforts and giving companies a distorted sense of impact
Growth & Innovation
Arrow Up
Upside: Business deploys market-based solutions to address sustainability challenges, delivering business value and sustainability impact at scale
Arrow Down
Downside: Sustainability efforts continue to focus on traditional financial metrics and impacting societal problems rather than solving them
Purpose,Value & Impact
Arrow Up
Upside: Business recognizes new measures of business success, driving transformational innovation to solve societal challenges while building a profitable enterprise that creates long term value

Study Themes

Accelerating Action

Wherever their company is on the corporate sustainability journey, an overwhelming number of CEOs prioritize sustainability. Nearly all (97 percent) believe that it is important to the future success of their business.

There is growing recognition of the interdependencies between business and societal goals, and CEOs believe they are making progress in embedding sustainability. A significant shift since 2013 shows growing confidence that awareness and commitment is translating into action. More than two-thirds of CEOs (67 percent) believe that business is making sufficient efforts to address global challenges, up from just 32 percent in 2013.

Fully 89 percent report that sustainability commitments are translating into real impact in their industry. In a shift from 2013, a lack of short-term financial return is no longer offered as an explanation for a failure to act: Eighty-five percent of CEOs say they have embedded sustainability into the business even where they cannot quantify the benefits.

CEOs are demonstrating a growing understanding of sustainable development, making deeper commitments and innovating solutions to global challenges. Even so, there is room for improvement. To accelerate progress and to play their part in delivering the SDGs, business must partner with governments, consumers and investors to raise the bar.

believe that sustainability is important to the future success of their business.
believe that business is making sufficient efforts to address global challenges.
Bisi Bright

"We are working closely to pursue the SDGs and align our initiatives and objectives with the goals."

Bisi Bright
1st Vice Chairman and CEO, LiveWell Initiative LWI Nigeria

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"To what extent do you agree that business is making sufficient efforts to address global challenges?"

Strongly Agree 14% 3%
Agree 53% 29%
2013 2016

Stakeholder Trust

The digital world is raising the bar for business, cultivating radical transparency and empowering consumers. Business leaders no longer answer only to investors and shareholders. A large majority (79 percent) of CEOs say that brand, trust and reputation drives them to act on sustainability.

This is not surprising considering that companies’ reputations today are literally at consumers’ fingertips, and can live or die on social media. This is one reason why 81 percent of CEOs say that digital technologies are radically increasing the transparency of product lifecycles and supply chains—and nearly two-thirds (62 percent) say that digitization has made trust a top priority for the company.

Leading companies develop competitive advantage from greater transparency. The glare of the spotlight influences them to improve productivity, cut costs, secure trust with local stakeholders, and build customer loyalty.

Transparency is also encouraging business leaders to focus on the social value of sustainability. To achieve the SDGs, it is essential for value to expand beyond the confines of traditional investor expectations to recognize and value broader societal impact. The social dynamics of competitiveness are front and center as CEOs make systemic changes to embed core purpose into the heart of business.

Supattanapong Punmeechaow

"Human rights is an essential element of sustainable business operations."

Supattanapong Punmeechaow
President and CEO, PTT Global Chemical Public Company Limited

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see brand, trust and reputation driving action on sustainability.
see consumers as a key influencer, the highest of any stakeholder

About The Study

The UN Global Compact—Accenture Strategy CEO Study represents more than a decade of research on sustainable business. Published every three years, this is the largest study of CEO attitudes to sustainability globally.

The Study includes in-depth conversations with the world’s leading CEOs—with more than 250 engaged through one-to-one interviews since 2007—and a survey covering UN Global Compact participant companies of all sizes across more than 150 countries and 30 industry sectors. The Study traces the development of corporate motivations in engaging with environmental, social and governance issues in core business.

In 2016—the largest CEO Study to date—over 1,000 survey responses were received, and one-to-one interviews were conducted with more than 50 CEOs of leading innovators.