RESEARCH REPORT

In brief

In brief

  • This joint research is the world’s most comprehensive to-date on business contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (also known as the Global Goals).
  • Despite the opportunity of sustainability, CEOs believe business execution is not measuring up.
  • CEOs believe that systemic change is key to influencing the broader business community to deliver real progress against the Global Goals.
  • To break through the status quo, CEOs need businesses to raise corporate ambition, collaborate in new ways and elevate the responsibility of leaders.


The decade to deliver

The 2019 United Nations Global Compact—Accenture Strategy CEO Study on Sustainability offers a candid look from CEOs at the opportunities and challenges to sustainability since the launch of the Global Goals in 2015. While CEOs acknowledge the opportunity for competitive advantage through sustainability efforts and report pockets of progress, they recognize that the business community could—and should—be making a far greater contribution to achieving a sustainable global economy by 2030.

"It's time for leaders to ensure sustainability goals are firmly embedded in corporate strategy and company purpose."


— PETER LACY, Senior Managing Director – Accenture Strategy, UK & Ireland and Accenture WEF Lead

In fact, the global community has reached a clear inflection point on the journey to 2030. CEOs agree that business must play a more critical role in advancing the Global Goals. They point to the barriers that are preventing business from doing more and the enablers that would unlock the potential of the private sector.

2016

70% of CEOs believed the Global Goals would provide a clear framework to structure sustainability efforts.

2019

48% of CEOs are implementing sustainability into their operations.

Time for a reality check

In 2016, business leaders’ attitudes toward sustainability reached a peak as CEOs saw opportunity to recalibrate their sustainability efforts in line with global milestones. This is not exactly the case three years later. Despite clear opportunity, CEOs in 2019 acknowledge that business execution is not measuring up to the size of the challenge of the Global Goals—or to their previous ambition.

Anxious for a course correction, CEOs are renewing calls for the business community to step up impact. In fact, 71 percent of CEOs believe that—with increased commitment and action—business can play a critical role in contributing to the Global Goals.

Beyond incrementalism

While there has not been as much progress as CEOs would like, they believe there is real opportunity for the global business community to embrace the Global Goals to drive growth, efficiency, reputation and innovation. Leading companies are already doing these things to transform their organizations.

“With a decade to deliver the Global Goals, technology has the potential to accelerate progress while helping companies enhance their competitive agility.”


— JESSICA LONG, Managing Director – Accenture Strategy, Sustainability​

However, transformation is difficult. Economic constraints and competing priorities are common barriers to overcome—and CEOs see a challenging decade ahead in light of geopolitical, technological and socioeconomic uncertainty. These forces and stakeholder expectations are driving business leaders to go further and be more proactive on the sustainability agenda.



Three calls to action

Leaders in 2019 are calling for business and industries to:

Raise ambition and impact

Leaders must drive change in their own organizations, and through the disruption of market systems.

Change collaboration

Key players must connect in new ways because meaningful transformation is not a solo sport.

Redefine responsible leadership

Leaders must embrace their role as change agents to champion the sustainability agenda.

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Peter Lacy

Senior Managing Director – Accenture Strategy, UK & Ireland and Accenture WEF Lead


Jessica Long

Managing Director – Accenture Strategy, Sustainability​

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