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Capabilities for transformation: How innovators are leading the way

UN Global Compact—Accenture Strategy CEO Study

Digital Transformation

In-depth interviews with CEOs across regions and industry sectors highlight specific mindsets and approaches that business leaders see as critical to success in a new era of global development. Accelerating progress and unlocking the potential of the private sector will depend on new approaches and capabilities that can shape supply, demand and the rules of the game, harnessing the innovation of business to address global challenges.

CEOs see the rapid development and adoption of digital technologies as a game changer for sustainable business, enabling new approaches and business models such as the Circular Economy, founded on greater efficiency, transparency and traceability. These transformative technologies are enabling companies to improve visibility throughout their supply chains and into the communities in which they operate, and fundamentally rethink their business models to decouple growth from environmental and resource degradation.

"Technology plays a major role in our ability to positively impact the world. It is a great mobilizer, and when harnessed, it shrinks the world and unites us."
President and CEO, SDI International Corp.

Engaging Ecosystems

Business leaders recognize the importance of reaching out "beyond the firm" to engage ecosystems of consumers, investors, governments and other partners in developing new solutions to global challenges.

Leading companies are already showing a willingness to broaden their horizons and their definitions of success: Eighty-six percent believe that transformative action will be underpinned by a new approach to identifying common metrics that allow companies to measure, track and communicate impact on the SDGs. This new approach will enable business to move beyond “do no harm” approaches to sustainability and adopt a new focus on value creation for society with real impact on global challenges.

The breadth of the challenge to accelerate progress on sustainability is demonstrated in CEOs’ views on what will be required to achieve the SDGs. Business leaders identify action across investors and financial markets; greater cross-sector collaboration, partnerships and funding for sustainable development; and international agreements and national action plans to deliver global goals. Clearly, business leaders see multiple actors combining in new way to deliver new solutions, with a critical role for organizations such as the UN Global Compact to convene a unified and coherent response.

"Over the next three to five years, how important will each of the following be in enabling business to be a transformative force for achieving the SDGs?"

Engaging Ecosystems

Regulatory Challenges

Business leaders also see a need to work more closely with governments and regulators, creating a level playing field for investment that allows purpose-driven companies to scale up their impact on the SDGs. This year, the survey data shows a continuation of a trend observed in the 2013 CEO Study—business leaders seeking "harder" measures of government action, such as regulation, taxation and incentives. But it is also apparent that leading companies are not waiting for governments to act. Across industry sectors, CEOs see opportunities for first-mover advantage in being the first and boldest to act on sustainability, anticipating new expectations and requirements of business and building a new social contract with governments, regulators and society at large.
"We need regulatory convergence, especially in major economies: Policies need to catch up with global climate commitments to create a clear picture for business."
Chairman of the Executive Committee and CEO, Solvay

Leading The Way

CEOs recognize the role of personal leadership and accountability for sustainability performance. Fully 95 percent feel a personal responsibility for ensuring their company has a core purpose and role in society, and 90 percent affirm their personal commitment to leading the way on the sustainable development agenda. Strikingly, the majority of CEOs would agree to have their remuneration linked to independent measures of their company’s performance on sustainability.
"I want to be a role model for the younger generation, to demonstrate it is possible to create and grow a company while preserving one's own values."