Sustainability has climbed up the priority list of business executives, according to a survey released today by Google Cloud, yet many feel that their companies overstate their sustainability efforts, and most lack the tools to measure their progress.

For the study, conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Google Cloud, nearly 1,500 executives at the C-Suite or VP levels were surveyed across multiple global markets and industries.

The survey found that sustainability issues have moved up in the priority list for nearly all executives, with 89% agreeing with the statement “I realized I care more about sustainability than before,” and 93% saying that they would be willing to, or already do, tie compensation to ESG goals.

Nearly all executives said that their companies have at least one program in place to advance sustainability initiatives, with the average company having four such initiatives in place. The top-listed areas for current initiatives included offsetting carbon emissions, implementing sustainable office policies, supporting green vendors, designing products and services with a sustainable mindset, and reducing energy use or moving to renewable energy sources.

Nearly two thirds of executives surveyed reported that they would be “willing to grow their businesses in a way that is sustainable for the planet,” even at the risk of lower revenue near-term.

In a blog post discussing the survey results, Google Cloud Managing Director of Global Sustainability, Justin Keeble wrote:

“Climate-induced wildfires, massive storms, and deadly heat waves, along with the complexities around managing sustainable supply chains and emissions reduction, have awoken the corporate world to the planet’s stark realities of climate change.

“Sustainability and environmental impact have become top of mind for executives across the world, with many starting to prioritize sustainable changes to how they operate.”

While executives are clearly prioritizing ESG, however, the survey also indicated that significant work remains to be done in order to implement sustainability strategies and measure progress. Only 36% of survey respondents reported having measurement tools in place to quantify their sustainability efforts, and fewer than one in five say that they optimize results based on measurements.

More than half of respondents raised greenwashing concerns, reporting that their organizations have overstated their sustainability efforts.

The survey also explored the key barriers to achieving sustainability progress, with a lack of investment in the right technologies and a lack of understanding issues topping the list of responses, at 36% each. Other key barriers reported by the executives included a relentless focus on growth and profit, a lack of budget to fund sustainability measures, and a lack of regulatory incentives.

Technology was identified as a key area of investment to help advance sustainability efforts, with over 90% of executives agreeing that “technology makes it possible for our organization to be more sustainable,” and technology and sustainability listed as the top two areas for increased investment this year. The executives reported that technology can help drive sustainable transformation, share and socialize their initiatives, and report on the impact of sustainability initiatives.

Keeble wrote:

“The good news is that it’s still early for many companies’ sustainability journeys – the majority (more than half) of executives say they are in the planning and early implementation phases of sustainability transformations so there’s progress to be made. The challenging news is we need urgent action from all industries now to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.”

Click here to access the results of the Google Cloud survey.

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