New Research Finds Corporate Sustainability Executives Wield Surprising Influence

New York City (March 9, 2011) – Successful sustainability executives wield influence far greater than their modest budgets suggest. An executive with a department budget of $2 – $5 million can influence spending five to ten times as much by working with other departments to identify, sponsor and justify sustainability initiatives and investments. “Sustainability leadership is about leverage,” said David Schatsky, principal at Green Research and author of a new study of sustainability executives. “Whether it’s deploying new technology to slash power usage at a data center, or reengineering a manufacturing process to use raw materials more efficiently, sustainability executives have to make it happen through leaders of departments throughout their companies. And that means influencing and ultimately adding dollars to other departments’ budgets to achieve sustainability goals.”

According to the report, “Corporate Sustainability: Organization Structures, Budgets and Mastering the Art of Influence,” the core responsibilities of sustainability departments include developing strategy; setting and communicating sustainability goals and progress toward those goals; engaging outside experts and NGOs; and coordinating the execution of sustainability strategy across their company through formal but often “dotted-line” relationships. Effective sustainability leaders are adept at working with other departments to allocate budget dollars in support of the sustainability strategy.

The findings are the result of interviews with over thirty senior sustainability executives at major companies in North America and Europe.  The study also explored the structure of the sustainability function at their companies; their budgets for developing and executing sustainability strategy; the central purpose of their sustainability strategy; and their attitudes and practices around sustainability reporting.

Wielding influence inside their companies is the first frontier for sustainability executives. Exerting influence outside companies is the next.  A number of companies are discovering that factors outside their direct control, from the practices of suppliers and logistics providers to the behaviors of their customers, can have substantial environmental impacts and need to be managed if the companies are to achieve their sustainability goals. The report finds that influencing suppliers and customers will become a trend of increasing importance for sustainability executives.

The complete findings of the report are available online at To learn more about the research or the specific companies interviewed, please visit or contact David Schatsky at 646-783-8337 or

David Schatsky


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