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Corporate sustainability projects: benefits and future potential

Corporate sustainability projects are taking center stage in the strategies of companies, both large and small.

 IMG 10

Corporate sustainability projects are taking center stage in the strategies of companies, both large and small. According to EY's Seize the Change annual report, published in February 2023, around 82 percent of companies surveyed have developed sustainability plans - an increase of about 32 percent compared to 2020. In addition, 47 percent of these companies (39 per cent in 2021) have set climate change adaptation targets and actions, with a growing use of renewable energy sources.

Emphasis on sustainability is reinforced by a survey conducted by the Forum for Sustainable Finance, in partnership with Cerved Group and Cerved Rating Agency, at the end of 2022. It shows that for over 45 percent of responding companies, sustainability (comprising environmental, social and governance factors) plays an “extremely important" or "very important" role in guiding strategic decisions and investments. A further 39 percent consider it moderately important.

The heightened focus on environmental issues is driven not only by the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development but also by reputation and business considerations. Sustainability has become an overarching priority for Italians, influencing their choices as consumers and employees. As a result, companies feel the need to act to maintain their competitive edge.

In particular, the value chain is the main driver for integrating sustainability into business strategies and production processes. In the Forum for Sustainable Finance survey, companies reported that in the past year, the main source of enquiries about sustainability issues was from clients (both companies and individuals at 30 percent), followed by suppliers (18 percent), banks (13.5 percent) and investors (4 percent).

Benefits and potential of corporate sustainability projects

The Forum for Sustainable Finance's research data confirms that Italians deeply value sustainability, influencing their consumer choices and roles as employees and collaborators. Italians prioritize all three dimensions of sustainability - environmental, social, and economic/financial - but to varying degrees, according to a Norstat survey.

For 64.7 percent of respondents, environmental sustainability, which includes the health of the planet, is of paramount importance. Social issues resonate with 46 percent, while economic concerns are important to 34.7 percent. These figures underline the importance of investing in corporate sustainability projects. However, these actions should not be seen as mere obligations; they have several positive implications for companies. Here are some:

Increased employee satisfaction and loyalty

Italian workers are highly sensitive to sustainability issues. In fact, a company's commitment to sustainability profoundly impacts their decisions and job performance. For example, 90 percent of employees say they are happier when involved in their company's green initiatives (source: National Environmental Education Foundation).

Sustainable projects boost employee morale, motivate them to work harder and foster greater loyalty to the company (source: Green Business Bureau). A Fast Company study supports these findings, with 70 percent of respondents saying they would stay longer at a company that prioritizes sustainability.

Increased consumer awareness

In recent years, the number of environmentally conscious consumers has risen sharply. These consumers actively seek companies, products and services that align with their green values. Data from a Gfk survey illustrates this phenomenon: 73 percent of global consumers believe it is important for companies to adopt environmentally responsible practices. In addition, 36 percent say they choose one brand over another specifically because it supports a cause they believe in.

Looking more closely at Italian consumers, they show a willingness to experiment with and choose new brands that embrace sustainability. An impressive 78 percent of Italians would give up a better-known brand in favor of a more sustainable one (source: Google).

Improved reputation and cost savings

Initiating and implementing corporate sustainability projects leads to improved corporate reputation and cost savings. This assertion is supported by companies already on a sustainable path. Among the key opportunities identified by the Forum for Sustainable Finance survey respondents, 39 percent cited reputational benefits, while 36.5 percent pointed to savings from energy-efficient processes.

The Italian population, including employees, consumers, stakeholders and suppliers, places great importance on sustainability communication. As a result, a company's active involvement in sustainability initiatives creates value and enhances its brand reputation.

With the global demand for sustainability expected to increase, integrating sustainability into business strategies is essential for companies that want to remain relevant in the future while increasing productivity. McKinsey & Company reports that sustainability can reduce costs and impact operating profits by up to 60 percent. Sustainability also increases productivity. A Deloitte study shows that companies with an inclusive culture increase profitability by 27 percent and productivity by 22 percent.


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