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Aligning Profit and Environmental Sustainability

Stories from Industry

While powerful forces like population growth, resource scarcity, and economic austerity are creating the need for transformative changes in business practices, the question remains: Why aren’t “win-win” results for companies and the environment getting to scale? This paper explores that question with the help of insights from sustainability managers from a cross-sector sample of multinational companies.

Executive Summary

Many large companies have established sustainability goals and targets, and it is becoming increasingly common for these goals to address significant environmental challenges like climate change. More efficient use of natural resources, like energy, reduces operating costs and therefore makes business sense. In response to consumer preferences, some companies are also taking steps to reduce the environmental impact of their products and services as well as their supply chains. However, despite some progress, strategies that are good for business and good for the environment are not getting to scale.

To begin to understand why this is, WRI interviewed sustainability managers from a cross-sector sample of eight multinational companies. This research showed that using a “sustainability lens” to evaluate business opportunities has helped companies grow revenue and gain competitive advantage. It also identified four main barriers preventing the improved scale-up of environmentally sound business practices. Based on the experiences of the companies WRI interviewed and WRI’s own perspectives, four actions have been identified that could help overcome these barriers and better scale financially-sound corporate investment in environmental sustainability.

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