Corporate Sustainability: Organization Structures, Budgets and Mastering the Art of Influence

Corporate sustainability executives face substantial challenges. They need to stay abreast of the rapidly evolving discipline of sustainability; they need to work across their organizations to foster dramatic changes in how they conduct business; and they need to communicate effectively inside and outside the company to understand and influence diverse stakeholders.

Green Research set out to understand the work of senior sustainability executives with the goal of aggregating, analyzing and sharing information of value to this group as well as identifying avenues for future research. We interviewed more than 30 senior sustainability executives at major companies in North America and Europe. We investigated the structure of the sustainability function in their companies; the budget for developing and executing sustainability strategy; the central purpose of their sustainability strategy; and their attitudes and practices around sustainability reporting.

This study reveals remarkable diversity but also some telling patterns among the companies and executives interviewed. One of the most important sources of learning for nearly all the executive interviewed for this study is interactions with their peers. This study helps sustainability executives identify areas for focus and discussion in peer encounters. It highlights trends in organization structure, budgeting and reporting. And it provides useful perspective to vendors and agencies that develop and offer services aimed at senior sustainability executives.

Pages: 22; Figures and tables: 10; Published: 2011


Key questions addressed

  • Where are sustainability departments typically located in corporate organization structures?
  • What are the pros and cons of different sustainability organization structures?
  • How large are sustainability budgets and what are major spending categories?
  • How do sustainability executives formulate and articulate their mission and purpose?
  • What are information sources that sustainability executives rely on most?
  • What are the trends in sustainability reporting?
  • Why is mastering the art of influence so important for sustainability executives?

Who needs this report

  • Senior executives at companies grappling with sustainability
  • Sustainability executives
  • Non-governmental organizations
  • Universities and sustainability research centers
  • Public relations and marketing agencies
  • Sustainability consultants
  • Industry associations

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Key Findings
  • An Elite Group on a Journey
  • The Corporate Sustainability Function: Leadership and Leverage
  • Executives Seek to Leverage Small Budgets with Big Influence
  • Behind the Mission
  • Knowledge Sharing with Key Organizations
  • Trends in Sustainability Reporting
  • Outlook
  • Mandate
  • Companies Interviewed

List of figures

  • Revenue Breakdown of Study Participants
  • Henkel’s Sustainability Governance Structure
  • BASF’s Sustainability Governance Structure
  • Location of Sustainability Function
  • Influence of Sustainability Department on Other Departmental Budgets
  • Top Items in Sustainability Department Budgets
  • Number of Companies Submitting GRI-Compliant Reports to GRI
  • Year-over-Year Change in Number of Companies Submitting GRI-Compliant Reports
  • Reporting Maturity Framework
  • Sustainability Visions, Missions and Goals

Companies Interview for this report

  • ACCO Brands
  • Akamai
  • Annie’s
  • Applied Materials
  • Aspen Skiing Company
  • BASF
  • Bloomberg
  • Campbell Soup Company
  • Darden Restaurants
  • EMC
  • Enterprise Holdeings
  • FedEx
  • Green Mountain Coffee
  • Roasters
  • Henkel
  • InterfaceFLOR
  • Levi Strauss & Co.
  • Mars
  • Patagonia
  • Pepsico International
  • REI
  • Sabre Holdings
  • Sodexo
  • Sprint Nextel
  • Standard Chartered
  • Starbucks
  • The Home Depot
  • Unilever
  • Verizon
  • Xerox

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