New responsible business measure reveals environmental issues must become bigger business priority

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, 29th April 2019 

  • Health and wellbeing ranked as biggest material issue to business with environmental issues coming second
  • 63% of participating companies have set objectives, targets and KPIs for their carbon reduction strategy, but only 22% have science-based targets for carbon reduction linked to global targets
  • 33% have a circular economy strategy and 22% have defined the expected business impact of their strategy

Against the backdrop of Extinction Rebellion urging government to take urgent action to tackle climate change and unprecedented pressure on companies to put the health of our planet before profits, environmental issues have been identified as the second most material issue to businesses. This is according to analysis of findings from the Responsible Business Tracker, piloted this year and published today by Business in the Community – The Prince’s Responsible Business Network.  37% of participating companies chose circular economy and resource productivity, net zero carbon and/or healthy ecosystems as one of their top two highest priorities.

However, the gap between environmental issues and health and wellbeing as high business priorities, the latter chosen by 52% of participating businesses, shows that the environment still has a way to go to get to the top of the agenda, signalling more must be done, quicker.

The Responsible Business Tracker, sponsored by Sky and supported by the Lloyds Banking Group’s Centre for Responsible Business of the University of Birmingham, is the largest measure of responsible business in the UK with 64 companies participating across 24 sectors with a combined turnover of approximately over £105bn and employing over one million people. It is not currently statistically representative of all UK business, but is indicative of key emerging trends which will be explored further with more participants in future. 

The Responsible Business Tracker data also revealed that while 86% of participating companies have a purpose statement with 47% linking it to responsible business, the vast majority (83%) have not integrated their purpose statements across departments with clear team targets.  Only a third (33%) reported they have performance management systems in place to integrate responsible business objectives across the business.  While we would expect leadership to be setting ambition and driving strategy, there is a big gap between what is being communicated and how it translates across departments and individual accountability and targets.  A gap between company purpose statements and integration with clear targets across departments and teams could point to a potential danger of UK business falling into the trap of purpose-washing.

Key Responsible Business Tracker findings also include:

  • 22% of participants named net zero carbon as a top two high business priority issue, 13% selected circular economy and 2% chose healthy ecosystems (totalling 37% choosing environmental issues)
  • 61% of participants consider social factors during product or service development.  56% consider environmental factors
  • But, only 39% reported that they have processes in place to be able to change product and service design if they have a high level of negative impact or no real social impact
  • 44% have carried out environmental lifecycle assessments for all/some of their products and services to understand their impact and inform resource productivity and circular economy strategy

Gudrun Cartwright, environment director at Business in the Community, said:

“These results demonstrate that many businesses still do not fully understand the existential risks presented by the environmental challenges we face – both to the survival of their businesses and to whether we hand on a planet that enables our children to thrive.

“They also highlight just how much remains to be done to shine the light on and to take advantage of the huge opportunities that responding to environmental challenges bring to innovate and create new products, services and other business opportunities. Climate change and environmental degradation are existential threats to current business models and future prosperity.  However, facing those threats head on provide some of the most exciting opportunities to create value in new ways and deliver resilient prosperity for businesses and communities. 

"We are seeing how our members are delivering significant cost savings, bolstering their brand in a way that attracts new talent and creating new market opportunities.  We have also seen over 100 companies make a real commitment to tackle climate change by signing our Waste to Wealth Commitment to work together towards doubling the nation’s resource productivity and eliminate avoidable waste by 2030.  To achieve this, companies are setting targets to improve the productivity of resources that are key for their business, they are redesigning how resources are used in their products, services and operations, they are working with other organisations within and outside their sectors and they are reporting results annually."

Amanda Mackenzie, chief executive of Business in the Community, concluded:

“Thanks to the pioneering companies dedicated to getting better, we can for the first time measure how much companies are walking the talk in responsible business. The Responsible Business Tracker is the UK’s largest measure of its kind which reports on the progress companies are making, what more needs to be done and provides a support system for businesses to improve. It doesn’t always make for easy reading, but companies that want to change are willing to say they are not perfect and want to know how they can improve.

“We are increasingly seeing companies re-thinking their role and contribution to society by stating what their purpose is. This is progress. However, our Responsible Business Tracker not only showcases the positive impact companies are making which others can learn from, but keeps us honest so we don’t fall into a potential new era of purpose-washing. Health and wellbeing comes top of the list of priorities for business, and while environmental issues come second, the gap is too big and more must be done, quicker.

“As the Responsible Business Tracker grows in participation, its influence and importance will only become greater.  In future, the Responsible Business Tracker will drive practical action and impact, identify best practice and make change happen.”

Jeremy Darroch, CEO of Sky plc and Chairman of Business in the Community, concluded: 

“The Responsible Business Tracker will become a vital tool for showing how responsible UK business really is. At a time of decreasing confidence in the institutions that have traditionally held society together, there is an even greater expectation on business to act on their words.”

Ends 

Notes to editor 

Copies of The Responsible Business Tracker® Insights: Raising The Bar, Business in the Community’s Responsible Business Tracker report can be downloaded here 

Media contact 

Katherine Howbrook, head of media and external affairs, Business in the Community, Mobile: 07515 119 096 Email: katherine.howbrook@bitc.org.uk

About Business in the Community 

Business in the Community, part of the Prince’s Responsible Business Network, is a business-led membership organisation made up of progressive businesses of all sizes who understand that the prosperity of business and society are mutually dependent. We exist to build healthy communities with successful businesses at their heart. 

We use our Responsible Business Map to guide members on a journey of continuous improvement, working across the whole responsible business agenda. From community engagement to employment, diversity and the circular economy, we offer expert advice and specialist resources, driving best practice by convening, sharing learning and recognising great performance across our influential network. www.bitc.org.uk