Sustainability Initiatives Not Sustained: Survey

August 19, 2002 ( - Public companies that initially adopt socially and environmentally friendly policies may find that it takes more to maintain that impact over time.

That, according to a new social investing survey of 140 large US firms, by PricewaterhouseCooplers LLC scheduled for release later this week, ahead of the second environmental world summit convening in Johannesburg, South Africa.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, talks at the conference are expected to center around ways businesses can graduate from merely being socially responsible to using their influence and financial resources to help sustain the world. Two common sustainability initiatives are helping to reverse ecological problems as well as feeding the poor.

The new PWC survey found that three-quarters of the companies have kicked off a sustainability program including pollution-prevention and maintenance of environmental systems. PWC said that progress, mostly from large public multinational companies, is significant compared with a decade ago.

Corporate Follow Through

However, the PWC study found that 72% indicated they hadn’t followed through in making sure their sustainability programs are carried out in a more systematic manner.

PWC researchers said that puts the corporations at economic risk in case their reputations become tarnished by a public backlash over some practices, such as excessive logging. It also deprives them of the potential opportunity to market some green products such as cleaner-burning engines.

Risk to a company’s reputation has become a real concern on Wall Street following the spate of corporate accounting and ethics scandals. Indeed, 90% of the corporations that reported adopting some sustainable practices indicated in the PricewaterhouseCoopers survey that they did so, in large part, to enhance their reputations.

But not everyone is convinced of the urgency to act. Of the quarter of survey respondents who reported having adopted no sustainable practices, the majority indicated one of their main reasons for not doing so was the lack of a compelling business case.