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The Evolution of Sustainability: From Brand Perception to Business Imperative

By Stephen Russell


Sustainability was once thought of as a strategy to improve a brand’s reputation and perception. Corporations would make adjustments to business practices, processes, etc. with sustainability in mind, but these initiatives were rarely discussed around the boardroom table. However, a new survey of 500 companies by NTT (a client of Wireside) examining sustainability across environmental, social and economic areas reveals that a corporate sustainability strategy has evolved from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have. This evolution of corporate thinking is driven by several factors, but three trends stand out when it comes to organizations’ commitment to sustainable business practices:

  • Sustainability Improves the Bottom Line: A key factor influencing this shift is the impact on a corporation’s bottom line. The study found that 44% of companies experience improved profitability as a result of sustainability. Additional benefits of sustainability initiatives include:

  • Decreased costs through improved efficiencies (33% experienced this benefit).

  • Greater innovation and/or new business models (32%).

  • Increased revenue growth (24%).


With more organizations now experiencing benefits that impact profitability, revenue and efficiency, adoption of sustainability is now seen as an imperative for businesses to both drive positive change and to improve corporate finances. This dual impact incentivizes businesses to not only adopt sustainable practices, but also to invest further in these initiatives to experience greater ROI.

  • Sustainability and Digital Innovation Go Hand-in-Hand: As more organizations adopt sustainability programs, it is becoming clearer that digital innovation and technology are critical to drive sustainability success. The survey found that 69% of global executives agree that digital innovation is key to achieving sustainability goals across environmental, social and economic areas. In addition, 87% of organizations surveyed have implemented digital technologies to achieve sustainability goals. The top five digital technologies and solutions being used now by organizations to achieve sustainability goals are:

  1. Cloud – 64%

  2. IoT – 46%

  3. AI (Machine Learning, Deep Learning, etc.) – 45%

  4. Advanced Data Management and Data Analytics – 38%

  5. Robotic Process Automation – 35%

  • Sustainability Matters to People: Of the organizations surveyed by NTT, 68% report that building a sustainable future is a top priority for their boards. In addition, nearly four out of ten companies state that customers, employees, shareholders and communities expect them to drive positive change. It is clear that sustainability is now a key differentiator for organizations that has far-reaching impact on employee recruitment, employee retention, customer acquisition and partner growth.


What’s perhaps most telling about the evolution of sustainability programs and business adoption of these initiatives is that only 12 percent of organizations worldwide indicate that sustainability is mostly “lip service.” In other words, the sustainability mindset is here to stay. The far-reaching impact of these programs now affects much more than brand perception. Sustainability is a key differentiator for a brand that is committed to business innovation, corporate growth and driving positive change.


If you’re interested in learning more, including some best practices to adopt when implementing a sustainability initiative, read the full NTT report here: https://www.global.ntt/isf/pdf/Innovating-for-a-sustainable-future.pdf.

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