Company boards still struggle with active involvement in sustainability, survey shows

Board level executives are still struggling to embrace the wider strategic business benefits of sustainability, according to a survey of environmental managers.


The survey underlines that senior management has some way to travel to go beyond treating sustainability as more than a narrow compliance issue.

Equally troubling is the report’s clear message that many businesses will find it difficult to retain the updated ISO14001 environmental management standard because of a lack of interest from their boards.

The survey by consultancy WSP Parsons Brinkerhoff is admittedly based on a small sample of 110 environmental managers and queried how involved senior management teams were in companies’ green strategy.

Environmental management

ISO14001 survey chart

A third of the environmental managers polled advised that their board-level executives had little involvement in environmental management while 30% indicated moderate involvement.

It is a little alarming that under a third of senior executives are, according to the survey, either ‘involved’ or ‘very involved’, particularly as the updated ISO environmental standard puts additional pressures on senior management to be more involved.

We’ve written about the ISO14001:2015 standard in our Learn&Save section and it’s clear to us that the revisions are challenging for companies. Those that continue to have a focus on just compliance will most likely lose accreditation. Currently, there are 15,000 UK firms who have the standard so there would be substantial fall out if the survey’s results are accurate.

It is true that board-level buy-in to environmental management is a traditionally overlooked aspect of strategy. However, we have worked with proactive companies like FCC Environment who take the wide issues of the updated ISO standard seriously.

ISO training film

Our training film for the company is an important part of the push to embrace the new requirements but additionally to raise awareness across the whole business of the twin financial and green benefits.

We think that while the survey is troubling, there are strong signs following the Paris climate talks, that a growing number of company boards are embracing the need to widen the focus on green issues, based on both sound business and environmental grounds.

David Symons, WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff environmental director says:

“Business has huge opportunities to cut costs, increase resilience and to profit from emerging megatrends such as the sharing and circular economies. Yet environmental issues are still seen by many firms as a middle management, operational issue.

“Just focussing on the day-to-day issues misses these wider, strategic opportunities and sells short the potential for companies to be a real force for good.”


Time lag

It might be that there is a time lag between the publication of the new standard last Autumn and the wider awareness and adoption of additional requirements.

Whatever, at least environmental managers now have a substantial stick to wave in front of their senior executives and time to win over their bosses. Certified organisations have three years to make changes and meet ISO standards.

While there will be companies that decide not to go the extra mile to keep accreditation, we believe those that do will be far stronger and sustainable in all ways.



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