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U.S. Companies Struggle to Implement Culture of Sustainability, Pitt Survey Reveals
CB Bhattacharya next to text

While Patagonia is known for its culture of sustainability, the outdoor clothing company is the rare exception among U.S. companies, the results of a new survey reveal. Many U.S. companies have announced sustainability plans in recent years, yet only 30% of managers strongly agree the plans were launched successfully to employees and embedded into their company’s DNA.

This is among the findings of a Fall 2022 survey among 1,046 managers in U.S. companies conducted by The Harris Poll and the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Sustainable Business. The survey was based on insights in Center Director CB Bhattacharya’s book Small Actions Big Difference to better understand how companies are doing in integrating environmental and social concerns into their business models.

Activate Hearts and Minds of Employees

The full results were announced Oct. 20, 2022, at Alumni Hall on Pitt’s campus as part of a conference to celebrate the Center’s third anniversary. The Center, established in the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration, has been working since 2019 to help companies and students learn how to leverage investments in sustainability. Other survey findings include:

  • While corporate support staff (39% strongly agree) and managers (36% strongly agree) are somewhat more engaged in their company’s sustainability initiatives; the sustainability bug has yet to reach the frontlines, with only 25% strong agreement among customer support and 29% among those who make and sell products.
  • Both hearts and minds of employees need to be activated: a lack of sustainability culture (50% strongly agree) and lack of incentives (49% strongly agree) to engage in sustainability emerged as the biggest hurdles. Interestingly, 43% of managers strongly agreed their company was too short-term focused to be able to implement sustainability initiatives.   

Two Keys to Accelerate Momentum

Bhattacharya, the H.J. Zoffer Chair in Sustainability and Ethics at Katz, recommends a two-pronged engagement strategy to accelerate momentum:

  1. Using corporate purpose, materiality, principles of sustainability ownership and communication to engage the less engaged.
  2. Being ready for and actively addressing the increasing challenges that will be unearthed and identified by employees as engagement increases.

The Center celebrates its three-year anniversary with ongoing commitments from 12 global and regional companies, a coalition dedicated to cleaner energy in the Ohio Valley, and expanded opportunities for students to drive the future of sustainability. For more details, read this article.